1970s newspaper wisdom

July 9, 2007

In 1971 Harvard Business School grad, Robert G. Marbut, approached the Harte family who owned a Texas newspaper group, to ask if they’d back his publishing venture. They turned him down. Instead, they asked him to run the family business, Harte-Hanks. Marbut took the company public and in a year had taken it out of Texas and doubled its size to 27 papers.

Marbut also brought in all the 1970s business school stuff you’d expect: cost control, budgeting, and planning. And the language.

Marbut knew what a newspaper was. It wasn’t ink, pages and prose, it was “a package of heterogeneous information designed to appeal to a number of mini-audiences, each made up of readers who share similar values.”

He was pretty clear about what a newspaper group was, too: “We consider ourselves information providers for information consumers. This approach frees us to utilize fully the tools of the consumer product marketer, providing tailored products to meet unique informational needs.”

Under Marbut, Harte-Hanks papers became what Forbes magazine called “aggressive marketing vehicles tailored for advertisers.”

In 1976 he commissioned a huge piece of market research called Young People and Newspapers: An Exploratory Study, to look at why 18-24 year olds weren’t interested in reading papers.

Marbut was worried about the future, and what technology would mean for his product. “The fact that the same technology will be used by media other than daily newspapers will mean that others could enter the marketplace for meeting information needs and encroach on the franchise of an established newspaper … new technology will make it possible for the consumer to get his needs met in a variety of ways in the future, again setting the stage for continued fragmentation of media which could lead to further encroachment of the newspaper’s share of market.”

In 1997, Harte-Hanks sold its newspaper, TV and radio interests.

Previous post:

Next post: