Alabama weekly gets new identity, longer shelf life with Creative Circle redesign
Debut of countywide paper with modern design boosts readership, revenue in Baldwin County – all with a big ‘wow’
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Readers in Baldwin County, Alabama, are enjoying a weekly newspaper with a new identity — The Baldwin Times, a countywide paper with a more relevant, modern design that expands the reach of a set of Gulf Coast Media weeklies.
The redesign by Creative Circle Media Solutions debuted in September 2015, and it’s heralded as a community-builder that’s a win-win for readers and advertisers. Street sales are significantly up.
“I think that [the redesign] just kinda wowed people,” said Larry Miller, chief executive officer of Osteen Publishing Co., which owns the Gulf Coast Media papers. “I think the new design is so much more inviting.”
The design of a new brand, The Baldwin Times, provided a vehicle to boost each of the community weeklies — The Times Independent, The Courier, The Foley Onlooker and The Islander — a five-in-one benefit. “The team in Baldwin had a great game concept. Instead of publishing four weeklies twice a week, they kept the four weeklies on Wednesday but merged them into a single product on Fridays,” said Creative Circle founder and president Bill Ostendorf. “Now they essentially have their four zoned products to reach individual towns and a county wide product to get a broader audience.”
Previously, four community weekly brands were published on Wednesdays and Fridays – eight papers a week. But that meant that soon after a newspaper hit the stands, the next issue pushed it aside. Now the community brand publishes Wednesdays, and The Baldwin Times publishes Friday. All five brands are on the newsstand for seven days.
That has both engaged more readers and pleased advertisers looking to capture customers’ attention for a longer span.
Readers in the four communities still have their local own brand, plus The Baldwin Times. “This allows us to appeal to both identities,” said publisher Parks Rogers, referring to the countywide identity and the individual town identity.
The redesign also allowed Gulf Coast Media to maximize the reach of each title. “What we had before was a very good paper on Wednesday — that had aged in two days,” Rogers said. “Now we have extended the life of that Wednesday paper for seven days.”
Saving time, saving money
The newspaper group knew it needed to make big changes to cut costs, Miller said. But the decision to make the Friday edition one countywide paper did mean eliminating one day a week that would have the town’s name in the title.
“We wanted to mitigate that reaction,” Miller said, so a new design was the answer. “It would look good. It would feel like an improvement. The redesign made the difference.”
From the newsroom’s vantage point
While revenue-building and cost-saving were big factors in the decision to redesign, better journalism was also a consideration. The new design “has changed the journalism itself,” Rogers said.
Early feedback from readers is that they perceive they are getting more, and better newspapers, said editor Cliff McCollum. “With this paper, they get a wider range of key issues that affect them from across the community. They like the new look of it.”
With the launch set to go for September, the newsroom began working on one of the most talked about issues in Baldwin County, the belief that as one of Alabama’s most affluent counties, it subsidizes the rest of the state. So The Baldwin Times decided to delve into it with a three-part series on taxes.
“You hear it all the time,” Rogers said. “This was a chance to see if investigatively it was true. It was a nice way to start.”
In addition, the new publishing format gave the newsroom the chance to develop stories with countywide angles. A story that might be happening in the beach communities served by The Islander might have countywide impact and be reported for that audience in The Baldwin Times.
Clear, colorful, better
The redesign also eliminated brand confusion for the Buzz, a freestanding cultural events publication aimed at attracting younger readers. “It’s got a very lively layout, almost a young feminine attitude,” Rogers said.
But having it freestanding didn’t work. Now it is a brand within the Friday paper, The Baldwin Times. “It’s branded to that popular section now,” Rogers said. “It’s lively, it’s colorful, this lasts the whole week.”
Moving from eight papers a week to five — The Baldwin Times and the four community weeklies — means more attention to quality. “They’re able to work more deeply on both editions,” Rogers said.
Bridge to launch
When it came time to launch, Gulf Coast Media was facing a staffing shortage, so it turned to Creative Circle to produce the first six weeks of papers. Creative Circle has often designed and produced publications for its clients as an additional service.
"We've produced tourism magazines, a trends magazine, a monthly association newspaper, special sections and weekly newspapers for our clients from right here in Providence," said Ostendorf. "We call it Creative Outsourcing. We can draw on our own staff and experienced designers from our large pool of consultants. We've provided vacation relief and emergency help when our design clients find themselves short handed."
By producing the first several issues with an experienced team in Providence, Creative Circle helped set a high standard for the look and editing of The Baldwin Times. “Every week, they would generate a stylebook for the person who took it on,” Miller said, which means the new design got tested. “We didn’t have to start it from scratch.”
That gave The Baldwin Times newsroom time to work out deadlines and communication and establish a good work flow. “By the time we picked up [production of the paper],” Miller said, “everything was running.”
What it looks like, reads like
High-quality design, improved journalism and optimal work flow positions The Baldwin Times to be better equipped to hold its own against its competition.
But that competition is not necessarily another news outlet. The Mobile Press-Register, which is across the bay, stopped covering Baldwin County a few years ago. Now its coverage is even scantier, printing only three days a week.
“We really have the largest news staff in the county,” Rogers said, counting eight news gatherers plus a columnist and contributors. “We are filling a void that has been left to us.”
So the real competition is time and attention, he said, “competition for relevance in the mind of our reader. We’re looking at trying to be a vital starter of conversation.”
And that meant not only a new look that is modern, clean and organized with a brand identity. It meant better headlines.
Specifically, more reader-oriented headlines, which came out of Creative Circle’s training with the staff. “[Now] it’s ‘Your Taxes May Go Up,’ instead of “Council Nixes Budget,’ “ Rogers said.
“We learned some good stuff,” McCollum added. “They offered us fresh eyes on the product.”
That’s an example of why Gulf Coast Media turned to Ostendorf and Creative Circle, to pull off better strategies that it could not have done on its own. “It was good to have his aggregated experience,” Rogers said.
The Creative Circle way
Osteen Publishing Co., the parent company of Gulf Coast Media, had hired Creative Circle for the redesign of The Sumter Item, in Sumter, S.C., in 2013.
The company knew the Creative Circle combination of excellent design, solid news editorial skills and media industry acumen. “[Bill’s] a very knowledgeable guy,” Miller said. “What I like about him is he’s everything you need in one person.”
The training programs that are a Creative Circle trademark create buy-in from the newsroom, and the training lays a strong foundation. “Of course, he has a very entertaining presentation,” Miller said. “He can do it in a way that people can enjoy it and not be intimidated by it. He’s sort of a one-man circus there.”
For those working on the front lines, to have consultants come into the newsroom can raise the apprehension level, but that wasn’t the issue with Ostendorf and lead designer Lynn Rognsvoog. “In all honesty, it can be nerve-wracking to give up that much control,” said McCollum. “They way they did it and still let us have input, they were very helpful. They took stuff we already were doing and found ways to enhance it.”
Not only did The Baldwin Times appreciate Ostendorf’s experience, it appreciated his integrity. “He’ll challenge you,” Rogers said. “He’s like a therapist who will tell you to get over your stuff.
“The best thinking from across the nation went into Bill’s thoughts,” he added. “We’re working on tomorrow’s paper.”