How the Herald Sun won an award without entering

798674-mark-hollands-newspaper-publishers-associationAt Thursday night’s newspaper of the year awards, One of the few major awards won by News Corp was for Best Cross Platform Brand for the Herald Sun in Melbourne.

On Friday, Mumbrella noticed the category of Best Cross Platform Brand did not exist in the original call for entries, and was not included in the shortlist published shortly before the event. Rival publishers told Mumbrella they did not recall entering the category.

We invited The Newspaper Works CEO Mark Hollands, who chaired the judging after the abrupt departure of his predecessor, to explain how the Herald Sun’s victory occurred.

Firstly, before you even ask . . . it was not a conspiracy to keep News happy. And honestly, they haven’t told me they’re unhappy. You get questions from editors occasionally but, to be honest, everyone is very respectful of the process, though I know a few editors grumble. Such is the nature of these things.

By the way, the best way make News happy to is never let The Age win Newspaper of the Year – so, I’d have pretty much stuffed that up.

Actually, in the five years I’ve been responsible for these awards, I think News has won the big one only once – Herald Sun in 2008. (The Oz won last year, but I wasn’t working for The Newspaper Works then).

The Best Cross-Platform brand is a Chairman’s award. The story for how it came about began when I was two days into the job at the end of April.

The call for entries had been dispatched and the Newspaper of the Year competition was under way. I expressed, in my own fruity way, disappointment at how the awards desperately needed a revamp and the opportunity had been lost.

At the very least, I thought, we should have had “Best Cross-Platform Brand”.

Anyway, life moves on and the main game in my job at the time was to help launch emma, the audience measurement survey.

As that project began to progress quickly, I thought that if we could launch emma before the awards, then The Readership Works and Ipsos could do a “Chairman’s Award” and that would allow some industry exposure for the new survey – a kind of win-win. Emma gets some airtime and we have at least one award that talks to the multi-platform strategies of publishers.

Once the emma launch date was settled on August 19, Ipsos’s Simon Wake and I sat down to see what should be done. By this time, the entry deadline for the Newspaper of the Year had closed, and the frighteningly large boxes of newspapers dispatched to all the judges.

So, we looked at the digital entries, and I poured over newspapers in the office.

In our judging, we were drawn to the brands that commanded audience segments – with the Herald Sun, that was football and, to a lesser extent, crime.

Part of our consideration was that in the Melbourne/Victoria market, the AFL is spending a lot of money on its own content creation to try to beat news publishers at their own game. Which they have the right to do, of course. It was clear the Herald Sun is really fighting on all fronts to maintain a leadership position, not only against The Age and The Australian, but the AFL, too. Plus various other websites.

The different digital approaches of the Herald Sun was pivotal to the decision.

Its various competitions, its Internet TV shows, such as the 10 “marks” of the week, have been excellent. Live HQ is a very good mobile app – and the content detail of everything published is first-class. Crucially, it is complemented by excellent sports journalism – good writing and no shortage of exclusives.

Herald Sun does the social media stuff well but that was not a deciding factor.

The difference was the creation and continued marketing of SuperFooty across platforms, and its integration with SuperCoach and Live HQ. The newspaper always commits space to push these facets of the business. In this area at least, the wall between print and digital appears to have been demolished – as all such walls should be. Here, we saw first-class cross-platform brand promotion. The Herald Sun branding you see at AFL matches with in-ground advertising influenced the decision because it enhances the whole story.

A combination of all of this got the Herald Sun over the line. The fact it is the top-selling daily wasn’t really a factor because in the Newspaper of the Year awards, we never make the size of audience or circulation part of the judging criteria.

  • Mark Hollands is CEO of The Newspaper Worls and spent four years as CEO of its predecessor PANPA, the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers Association. He is also a fiormer director of sales for Dow Jones, editor at News Limited and MD of doctom startup Beenz.

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