Mumbai: In an apparent swipe at The Times of India group, Mumbai-based English newspaper The Daily News and Analysis (DNA) recently launched an advertising campaign targeting the practice of selling editorial space for paid-for or marketing content.
The newspaper’s front page campaign started on 2 April with headlines that read “Truth well sold”, “Make the headlines tomorrow. By paying for it”, and “Money cannot buy our integrity”.
Take 2: DNA’s campaign highlights a recent trend in which newspapers are selling editorial space to pick up stakes in advertisers’ firms.
One such advertisement says: “There’s a fee for headlines. Another for news articles. With any luck, the only space they probably cannot sell is the section on the weather. They even have a fancy term for such news — a Public Relations exercise.”
Some media buyers say DNA’s campaign as a direct attack against The Times of India. a charge that DNA denies. Still, the campaign is a take on a relatively recent trend in the Indian media business, which has newspapers using edit space to promote events, people or companies in exchange for equity or other stakes in the advertisers.
What is interesting to industry observers is that the DNA campaign comes about three months after the newspaper’s co-owner, the Dainik Bhaskar Group, started its own, so-called private treaties division.
DNA’s publisher Diligent Media is a 50:50 joint venture between diversified media house Essel Group and the Dainik Bhaskar Group, a leading Hindi and Gujarati print media company.
Dainik Bhaskar’s private treaties division, headed by the group’s general manager Arvind Mittal, is responsible for setting up deals under which the media firm can pick up equity stakes in companies in return for promoting them through long-term advertising and other publicity deals.
“Private treaties do not in any way mean compromising the content as the newspaper’s final responsibility lies with its readers,” insists Rajiv Jaitly, president, DB Corp. Ltd, a Bhaskar group company. “There is a basic difference in the way the industry looks at private treaties and the way Bhaskar approaches it.”
He declined to comment on the advertisers contacted or deals in process, but said the division’s results were encouraging enough.
Jaitly also argued that private treaties do not promise editorial compliance and the “deals are just a way of agreeing on the future potential and of seeing merit on aligning business for us.”
Diligent Media chief executive K.U. Rao insists DNA does not sell editorial space. “There are no private treaties in DNA,” he said. “Everything here is public.”
He also denied that DNA’s campaign targeted The Times of India.
“The campaign is a take on DNA and how it is different from others. It is a positive statement from DNA for what it stands for. It’s not about anyone else,” he said.
DNA is No. 2 to The Times of India in terms of circulation in the hotly contested Mumbai market.
Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd (BCCL), India’s largest media group by revenue and the publisher of The Times of India newspaper, has attracted attention for pioneering the mingling of news and paid-for content, though some of its practices, such as forming equity partnerships, are now being copied by other media rivals. BCCL, which also publishes The Economic Times, says the DNA campaign will not hurt The Times of India brand in any manner.
“These are marketing tactics,” said Rahul Kansal, brand director, The Times of India. “Comparative advertising that hits out on a competitor has been put to great advantage in some cases. On the other hand, there have been a large number of cases where taking on a competitor, especially a leader ends up only backfiring on the brand concerned.”
Kansal said his paper would not launch a counter-campaign and asserted that BCCL has drawn a clear line between news and paid-for content.
“We are very transparent about paid-up content,” he claimed. “It has never once happened. On the contrary, so much is the commitment of the Bennett group that we have launched these services only for our lifestyle supplements, but we are ruthless about ensuring that this never happens with the main newspaper.”
Like many other media companies, HT Media Ltd, which publishes Mint, the Hindustan Times and Hindustan newspapers, has also set up an ad-for-equity team that has signed several such deals. The Hindustan Times competes with DNA and The Times of India in Mumbai.
When Mint publishes sponsored content, it is clearly labelled as Media Marketing Initiative and the paper also uses different fonts for such content to further distinguish it from normal editorial content. Mint’s Code of Conduct that governs its editorial practices is available on the paper’s website at www.livemint.com.