The newspaper that is bucking downhill trend
Zulu title has something for everyone, says editor
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-
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EDITOR SAZI HADEBE