'HT' relaunches Sunday with big media splash

NEW DELHI: Leading English language daily Hindustan Times, locked in a fight to the finish numbers game with The Times of India (TOI) in Delhi, has decided to give itself a make-over. The new avatar will be unveiled tomorrow, backed by a high-voltage multi-media campaign across all genres.

Talking to on the new marketing strategy, fine-tuned in collaboration with the editorial team, HT's vice-president (marketing) Anand Bhardwaj said, "The changes are being effected to keep pace with the changing needs of consumers and readers."

HT had been running a teaser campaign, designed by O&M, for some days now.

Though the newspaper's masthead would not be touched much --- it was changed a few years back in the late 1990s when 'The' was dropped from the name, amongst other things --- the whole "look and feel" of Page One, including the inside pages, would undergo several changes.

"Not only the design would have a new look, but the pages would have much more colour to them," Bhardwaj pointed out, saying that new supplements would also be added.

Sunday Brunch: The first edition of HT's new-look Sunday magazine.

To start with, the Sunday edition of HT would become bulkier, to the readers' delight --- may be to raddiwallahs too --- as the four-page Sunday Magazine would now come in the form of a swanky 48-page magazine-size lifestyle fare, christened Brunch.

Though it may be alleged that the inspiration --- hotly denied by Bhardwaj, though --- came from rival The Times of India, HT would encapsulate the whole newspaper in half a page for the reader who is too busy to go through the whole newspaper, but still wants to be aware of the relevant news and happenings. It would be appropriately called Two Minute HT.

"You cannot say that this idea has been inspired by Times of India's Speed News edition simply because, unlike Speed News, Two Minute HT section is not a separate edition," Bhardwaj says.

Another addition comes in the form of a four-page sports supplement pull-out that would be kept in the middle of the newspaper, unlike the sports pages traditionally being towards the end of broadsheets.

Trying to cash in on the hunger for entertainment-related news, every Thursday would see the appearance of a film supplement, HT Premiere. Tuesdays have been reserved for the new-look career supplement, HT Power Jobs. The existing supplements too would be made more contemporary.

What's more, even the weather report and TV listings would be spruced up to make them, as Bhardwaj said, "more reader friendly and easy to consult."

Pointing out that there would be other minor changes --- reflecting, by and large, in non-Delhi editions too --- effected in the newspaper's Delhi edition, Bhardwaj explained, "As in any other industry, we too undertake consumer surveys and the changes are in line with the needs of the readership, which is becoming more youthful in the country and hungry for information on entertainment, technology, latest gizmos and lifestyle."

Earlier also, HT had undergone a change when a designer had been flown in from the UK in the last decade --- much to the amusement of old-timers then --- to give the newspaper a more contemporary look. That time round though, HT had taken a more traditional route for its communication strategy.

That's why, Bhardwaj emphasizes, that probably for the first time they are looking at television very aggressively as part of an integrated multi-media campaign, which would include the other outlets like outdoor and cinema hall advertising. "We are looking at mass entertainment channels like Star Plus and Sony very aggressively, apart from niche products like news channels and Star Movies," he added.

The cost of this multi-media campaign would be between Rs 50-60 million in the first three months of the relaunch, till April.

The whole strategy is not purely boardroom brainstorming. For example, before introducing Brunch in Delhi, HT tested such a product in a quiet manner in Kolkata where the local edition's Sunday fare was a watered down version of the new-look Sunday Magazine. How many times would HT keep reinventing itself even as it slugs out with TOI in Delhi as to who's No. 1? (A case relating to NRS, which declared that TOI is the leader in the Delhi market, is still pending in court.)

True to form, Bhardwaj declares that HT is the undisputed leader --- a stance that has been described by TOI as that of a 'pretender' --- and added that the present changes, and the many more to come in future, would be effected "as many times as needed" for contemporaneous reasons.

"The relaunches would be done as many times as it takes to address a changing market," Bhardwaj declared, pointing out that when Hindustan Lever, considered a benchmark in marketing strategies, repositions and relaunches its product portfolio every three to four months, people hail it as innovative and when HT does it, it is derided as a knee-jerk reaction to competition's stridency.

"It's important to reinvent oneself and that is what we are doing at HT at present with the relaunch," he added.

But does the advertising industry look at such changes as activities of a star loosing its super-stardom?

"If the change is for the smarter, then certainly people would like it," opined Starcom Worldwide executive director Anita Nayyar, adding that at the end of the day, a basic reason is also to attract those few advertisers who are still not aboard HT.

With the changes being made in the name of the consumer, there is a fear that, like the broadcast and cable industry, HT too might pass on the cost of effecting the revamp down to the reader.

No way, Bhardwaj asserts. "We would hold the price line (Rs 1.50 on weekdays) for the moment. But in a dynamic market, such issues would get decided by competitive pricing that is taking place," he added.

So, from 1 February, enjoy the new-look HT, which, admittedly, has improved tremendously over the years, especially under the flamboyant editorship of Vir Sanghvi who has now been promoted to editorial director.

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