Reinvesting in print products

Project with Creative Circle injects paper with excitement and a new plan for success

Reader and advertiser focus leads to improved photography and headlines and abandoning the six-column format

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It’s not just a redesign, it’s a rethink. Two months after the launch of the print redesign of The Sumter Item in Sumter, S.C., the changes are dramatic – satisfied readers, a thriving newsroom and confident advertisers. And that’s just the beginning.

Creative Circle Media Solutions led the redesign, which featured a shift to a five-column grid, a name change that brought Sumter back into the nameplate and an advertiser-friendly rate card. 

A few months later, the familly-owned daily, which serves three counties in coastal South Carolina, unveiled a revamped, innovative website.

The fast-tracked redesign came just in time, says Graham Osteen, co-president of Osteen Publishing, which publishes the paper in Sumter and two others in Jacksonville, Fla., and Las Cruces, N.M. “We needed a complete culture change. I wasn’t sure how we could get there on our own.”

Bill Ostendorf, CEO and founder of Creative Circle Media Solutions says the January 2014 launch was the halfway point of a yearlong comprehensive review. 

He called the project significant and innovative because it goes beyond changing type fonts to re-energizing a newsroom in a time of high disruption. No aspect escaped review, from staffing, branding, ad rates, workflow, advertising, circulation and vendors.

"A key aspect of what we are doing is getting back to making decisions that are in the best interests of readers and advertisers,” Ostendorf says.

Once newspaper leaders reset their orientation to serving their audiences, the decisions are easy and obvious, Ostendorf says. 

The five-column grid was an instant hit, Graham Osteen says. “That change made the advertisers happy, Graham Osteen said, because advertisers got bigger ads for the same price.”

Expanding the staff and adding a staff photographer, multimedia editor Matt Walsh, were key early decisions. 

“We believe a re-commitment to better quality content is essential to success,” Ostendorf says.

Walsh agrees. “For Bill’s plan, photography is crucial. You have to have good photos to put what you’re doing into action.”

The improved photography, along with better communication, have helped the paper sell better to advertisers, Walsh says. When he compares the before and after photography of the paper’s Lakeside magazine, for instance, the positive affect is clear. “That thing just pops out at you,” he says.

Key features of the print redesign:

> Five-column grid that increased the readability of the paper.

> The return of Sumter in the nameplate. Sumter had been in the nameplate since circa 1894, but the town name was dropped in the 1980s, says publisher Jack Osteen.

> Two nameplates that maximize page one layout options.

> Hiring of a chief photographer and renewed emphasis on photography.

> Modular advertising

> New rate card

> New revenue vehicles, including Creative Circle Media Solutions’ Quick Ads, the innovative online and print advertising platform

> An increase in the single-copy price from 50 cents to 75 cents

The way the advertising representatives sell now “has gotten so much easier,” says Jack Osteen. The restructured rate card also meant rethinking color positions, offtering more to advertisers.

On the name change, Jack Osteen says, “we’ve gotten nothing but positive comments on that.”

Advertisers in the community have reported confidence that The Sumter Item is a product that will help their business succeed, Jack Osteen says.

The quick turnaround, from August 2013 to January 2014, shook things up right away. And it got them focused, Graham Osteen says. “It injected excitement that had long been needed. We were stagnant.”

“You can’t just let things go and go,” Graham Osteen says. “You have to rethink.”

Ostendorf gives a lot of credit to the Osteen family and management of The Sumter Item for re-investing in their company and community – and for trying “some things that may just help the industry as a whole find some new solutions."

The Sumter Item
Owned by: Osteen Publishing
Published: Daily, Tuesday-Saturday
Daily circulation: 13,900
Sunday circulation: 14,500

The Item, Sumter, South Carolina, print redesign, web site, family-owned