When a local team headed by ad agency and PR veteran Brian Tierney bought The Philadelphia Inquirer and related holdings 18 months ago, it was seen as a possible model for how “new thinking” could transform the newspaper industry.
Since then, Tierney and his team have had a tumultuous time, with major union problems, declining circulation and advertising shortfalls. But appearing at the Newspaper Association of America’s Marketing Conference in Orlando this week, Tierney laid out how he is righting the ship, bolstered in part by solid results from Philly.com, the online site headed by MediaNews Group veteran Eric Grilly.
Freed from corporate-wide deals made by Knight Ridder, Philly.com, which is “anything and everything Philly,” has been able to go its own way, signing with Monster.com for recruitment and building out community services. The site has doubled its page views and boosted unique visitors by 7 percent, says Tierney.
The goal is to attract new audiences online, and be realistic about print readership, which isn’t about young people. “We’re targeting women 35+,” says Tierney. “We’re being very, very tactical” with beach promotions, etc.
One of the biggest challenges faced by the company is that ads are bought by “32-year-old” account reps. “We know we’re a little bit uncool,” says Tierney. To counter such perceptions, Tierney is investing heavily in a media lab concept. “Agencies want to do TV,” he says. With broadband, Philly.com will counter that by creating TV shows, along with magazine-style stories and radio content.
For instance, the site has Philly Uncorked, a “wacky wine show” produced by the Philadelphia Wine School and sponsored by The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. Looking forward, Tierney sees real opportunities in e-commerce via Zeppy, an Amazon-like site that hopes to provide more of a local look and feel.
But first he needs his team to appreciate the economic challenges that lie ahead. “There will be economic literacy courses for everyone,” he says.