The news­pa­per that is buck­ing down­hill trend

Zulu ti­tle has some­thing for ev­ery­one, says ed­i­tor

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - MEDIA& MARKETING - BREN­DAN SEERY

ANY mar­keters and brands are strug­gling to get to grips with how to com­mu­ni­cate with the vast and po­ten­tially highly lu­cra­tive “black” mar­ket.

They could do a lot worse than lis­ten to Sazi Hadebe, straight-talk­ing ed­i­tor of South Africa’s most suc­cess­ful African-lan­guage news­pa­per, the Dur­ban-head­quar­tered Isolezwe.

“I’d cau­tion against blindly fol­low­ing th­ese self-styled ‘black mar­ket gu­rus’ who of­ten overem­pha­sise cul­ture and try to ‘mys­tify’ the mar­ket for their own ben­e­fit. My ad­vice would be, don’t fake it.

“The mar­ket val­ues authen­tic­ity, so don’t sec­ond- guess what you think might be ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Hadebe adds: “We’re for­tu­nate in that the peo­ple work­ing on Isolezwe are the mar­ket, so we nat­u­rally adapt as things change – and they change fast th­ese days. We cross over from the past to the present, mod­ern to tra­di­tional, from ru­ral to town­ship to sub­urb in one is­sue.

“We run a fes­tive sea­son com­pe­ti­tion where read­ers can win a cow, goat and gro­ceries – it’s hugely pop­u­lar. Those same read­ers are just as keen to win the cars, ap­pli­ances, cash, and vouch­ers.

“It’s very fluid and open to all kinds of in­ter­pre­ta­tions – ex­cit­ing times if you can get it right!”

And Isolezwe is cer­tainly get­ting it right: in a sec­tor nor­mally full of doom and gloom with pre­dic­tions of plum­met­ing sales and the death of news­pa­pers, the Zulu lan­guage daily (and its Satur­day and Sun­day edi­tions) are show­ing strong up­ward growth in cir­cu­la­tion.

When the pa­per was launched just over 11 years ago, sales tar­gets set by In­de­pen­dent News­pa­pers KZN (In­de­pen­dent News­pa­pers also pub­lish the Satur­day Star and Weekend Ar­gus) were a mod­est 20 000 for the daily edi­tion.

That has soared past 100 000 and, says Hadebe: “There is def­i­nitely room for growth.

“There’re con­tent niches we can move into and ex­plore. Re­cent re­search has showed that we’re still pick­ing up new read­ers, younger read­ers, and that’s heart­en­ing for the brand’s fu­ture. With just over a mil­lion av­er­age is­sue read­ers, the lat­est AMPS show a 16 per­cent pen­e­tra­tion of Zulu house­holds in KZN and 26 per­cent in Dur­ban – we think we can im­prove on that.”

Hadebe is not con­vinced that the suc­cess of the pa­per is wholly due to “mother tongue magic”.

He says: “That doesn’t al­ways work in the mar­ket. In March, the Sun­day Times closed its isiZulu edi­tion af­ter only 16 months, and the long- stand­ing isiZulu weekly, Umafrika, ceased in June this year.

MPub­lish­ing in the ver­nac­u­lar is only an ad­van­tage when ev­ery­thing else is in place – the dis­tri­bu­tion, mar­ket­ing, ad­ver­tis­ing – it needs to work to­gether and among the team, new ideas are al­ways on the ta­ble.”

Hadebe also doesn’t think Isolezwe’s march up­wards is about pre­serv­ing lan­guage and cul­ture.

“What we’ve got with Isolezwe is a de­vel­op­ing cul­ture. There’s a de­gree of pride and co­he­sion among Zulu speak­ers, but it’s not about try­ing to keep things as there were in the old days. Isolezwe strad­dles the tra­di­tional and mod­ern with such ease. We’ll de­bate cul­tural is­sues on one page, pol­i­tics on the next and then move on to the lat­est DJs and gospel stars.”

What the news­pa­per has done is walk the walk when it comes to cov­er­ing is­sues that are close to peo­ple’s daily lives.

“Most of our up­front news is lo­cal and highly rel­e­vant. I would also say that our tone and ap­proach to news ap­peal to read­ers. We’re ‘ along­side’ our read­ers. When there’s tragedy, we’re em­pa­thetic; tri­umph, we cel­e­brate. Our tone is not flip­pant, or judge­men­tal and we don’t tell read­ers how to live, or what to think.

“They ap­pre­ci­ate that re­spect we have for them. And one of the ways we show re­spect back is by air­ing their views in our let­ters page and tak­ing their feed­back se­ri­ously.”

At the same time, “Isolezwe is also ac­ces­si­ble and fun – our car­toon and hu­mor­ous col­umns are very pop­u­lar. We ‘know the buzz’ on the en­ter­tain­ment scene, and that’s across all types of gen­res – gospel, maskandi, house, ev­ery­one gets a look in. And, of course, sport is one of our main­stays. Here soc­cer is our main fo­cus and we in­clude box­ing and ath­let­ics. There is a grow­ing in­ter­est in codes with good TV cov­er­age, such as cricket, swim­ming, ten­nis and golf.”

The news­pa­per’s sales suc­cess has al­ways not been re­flected in the ad­ver­tis­ing it at­tracts, al­though this has im­proved markedly from the early days when “there was a per­cep­tion, es­pe­cially from the Joburg- based agen­cies, that we were just a poor re­gional mar­ket.

“Some of the first ad­ver­tis­ers to come on board were the lo­cal re­tail­ers – and that was be­cause they could see how pop­u­lar we were from the copies be­ing sold in their shops. There are also some ad­ver­tis­ers who can’t com­pre­hend how the mar­ket’s changed and stick to their tried-andtested me­dia rou­tines.”

In re­cent years, though, things have been im­prov­ing as ad­ver­tis­ers “are aware of the growth of the mid­dle class and we see our read­er­ship pro­file mov­ing into the LSM6 and 7 seg­ments now.

“We are show­ing up on the plan­ning radar a lot more. We get good sup­port from lo­cal and na­tional re­tail­ers and that’s pos­si­bly be­cause they can see the re­sponse Isolezwe brings. There’s been growth in our mo­tor­ing, insurance and fast-food cat­e­gories as well, which is im­por­tant be­cause good ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue means we can ex­pand.”

How­ever, Hadebe is crit­i­cal of the LSM (Liv­ing Stan­dards Mea­sures) re­search met­ric which, he ar­gues, “does us no favours.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to stan­dard­ise a mea­sure across such a dis­parate coun­try and my be­lief is that the mea­sure un­der­rep­re­sents the com­mer­cial value of the more ru­ral, younger mar­ket.”

One of the strengths of the pa­per, Hadebe be­lieves, is that it “reaches a mar­ket seg­ment that’s not al­ways easy to get to ge­o­graph­i­cally”.

“Some re­tail­ers, mainly fur­ni­ture, could ben­e­fit from us­ing Isolezwe. It’s great to have brand ads in the pa­per. Ear­lier this year Ariel in­cluded us in their sched­ule, with a full-page Zulu ad – more of that would be fan­tas­tic.

“We are look­ing at en­cour­ag­ing more cre­ative ads in the ver­nac­u­lar. There is so much copy writ­ers could do as Zulu lends it self to id­iom and cul­tural ref­er­ence.

“Ear­lier this year, MTN bought out an en­tire edi­tion of Isolezwe with Zulu ads which had huge im­pact and ‘talk­a­bil­ity’.

“KFC, Steers, and Clien­tele life are also us­ing isiZulu in their ads which fits in well with our ed­i­to­rial en­vi­ron­ment.”

Hadebe adds that the mar­ket is full of sur­prises.

“We hear that dig­i­tal’s tak­ing over, ev­ery­one’s got a cell­phone, no one’s go­ing to buy news­pa­pers for ma­tric re­sults – and then we sell more than 250 000 copies of that edi­tion, which was con­sid­er­ably more than in 2012.”

While the pa­per will not rest on its laurels, Hadebe and his team re­alise that the news­pa­per doesn’t sell it­self.

“With a very low sub­scrip­tion sale, we go out there ev­ery day to sell on the strength of our pack­age.” IN RE­SPONSE to our Onion for Ned­bank’s SMS mar­ket­ing – which would have charged a non-client to “opt out” from re­ceiv­ing such mes­sages, we re­ceived the fol­low­ing:

Ned­bank has pro­cesses in place to en­sure con­fi­den­tial­ity and se­cu­rity of in­for­ma­tion used in in­ter­nal cam­paigns. Th­ese pro­cesses also in­clude the abil­ity of clients to opt out at no cost to them.

The in­ci­dent that you re­ported on should not or­di­nar­ily hap­pen and we apol­o­gise for this in­con­ven-

One of the lat­est vi­ral sen­sa­tions in cy­berspace is a video of a Volvo ad­ver­tise­ment fea­tur­ing movie strong­man Jean-Claude Van Damme. Made to em­pha­sise the pre­cise na­ture of the steer­ing sys­tem on new Volvo trucks, the ad­vert shows Van Damme slowly do­ing the splits as the trucks move grad­u­ally apart while re­vers­ing. It’s a stun­ning ad­ver­tise­ment be­cause it proves Van Damme, 53, is still in peak shape. It has also spawned a host of spoofs. See it on i-lincc code: ssstarorchid45

ED­I­TOR SAZI HADEBE

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