Creating everyone's Inquirer - five-platform transformation

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It may even be Rody Duterte's favourite newspaper, but the Philippines Daily Inquirer has lost none of its "first, fearless, and fair" edge following the election of the country's sixteenth president.

Nor since a dramatic redesign, which has focussed new attention on the four digital platforms which complement the 30-years-old print edition in a bid to attract younger readers and new advertisers.

Duterte has become "our biggest brand endorser", according to Charmaine Bautista-Parmintuan, the publisher's chief marketing officer, who says the paper has lost none of its intensity. Which is quite a claim, following a multimedia campaign in which high-profile Filipinos spoke of favourite aspects of "my Inquirer".

The campaign spearheaded the launch of a new look for the newspaper and a new approach to storytelling across what designer Mario Garcia - and now the clued-up Inquirer team - like to call the "media quintet".

The hard-hitting broadsheet daily now has elegant pages, new modular advertising units and a softer, lifestyle-driven approach to its Sunday edition. But it's not just about print, but about taking readers into a 24-hour relationship with the paper.

"It used to be that readers waited for news developed for morning print editions or evening telecasts," says Bautista-Parmintuan. "Now readers are accessing news as it happens, and we had to ensure the format matches readers' experiences - on every platform, whenever, wherever."

Garcia describes it as a new rethink across platforms: "It is not just the design that has changed, but also the approach to storytelling."

An initial "getting to know you" workshop in Manila before the 18-month project started showed the degree to which the Inquirer had progressed on the digital side: "They even boasted of a smartwatch presence - something that impressed me - but there were the usual gaps between how journalists viewed the print and digital editions."

He brought in designer Adonis Durado - creative director of the Times of Oman and one of the most awarded designers in the industry - and together they looked for an art director, recruiting Ralph (Apiong) Bagares to the task.

"Today's Inquirer displays a contemporary and colourful look - appropriate to the also colourful Filipino culture and the vibrant, and sometimes chaotic, streets in which it circulates - but also improved storytelling strategies that adapt to the various platforms of the media quintet: smartwatch, smartphone, online, print and tablet," he says. Garcia is critical of the "1964 design style" of many Philippines newspapers, and what he calls the "staircase to hell" in the positioning of ads.

The new Inquirer's break from this to a modular design "was something new and different for Filipino newspapers" and not easy to accomplish. "I even addressed a luncheon gathering of the newspaper's advertisers to convince them that modular design brings order to the pages where their ads appear," he says.

Colour - emphasising vibrant primaries - was a key element of the rethink, with a type palette including Sindelar for body text, condensed Mallory caps for headlines and Druk for section headers. Several studies went into a redesign of the masthead and logo with Fritz Quadrata working best and Durado creating a distinctive look for the letter Q, used prominently including on the smartwatch app.

Sunday print editions have distinct content and a look and feel which reflects the "more lean back" day where readers spend more time with their newspaper and expect analysis and interpretation.

Digitally, the smartwatch edition is for alerts of breaking news stories, leading readers to the mobile app, which includes a menu for breaking and trending news, bookmarks and notifications. Users can also upload their own reports and photos. PDFs of the printed newspaper form part of the tablet version and become an e-paper edition.

Online, the new inquirer.net home page offers users a "card system" view of eight stories - with hierarchy for a constantly-updated lead story - instead of the previous carousel. Cards are the same size for news and advertising, adding flexibility, and the "latest headlines" feature is retained but moved downpage.

Responding to what Bautista-Parmintuan calls a "media of everywhereness", the Inquirer wanted not only to inform readers of the other platform options available, but also take the opportunity to win new readers and advertisers, and regain lapsed ones... while protecting the audience and advertisers it had.

Sharing aims and insights with staff was part of the project, so that both business and editorial teams understood and respected each others' roles, and did justice to their efforts.

Print and digital journalists were taught to produce content for all platforms, and gained new skills including photography and video reportage... "how we get stories, understanding the pitfalls in the 'lean forward' and 'lean back' tempo, and the need to develop stories for each platform".

While the marketing campaign for the Inquirer's relaunch was held until the day before the first edition of the newspaper - with its new look across platforms - hit the streets, promotional materials were "splashed through all our Inquirer assets, including outdoor advertising".

With readers central to the campaign, a recurring theme was that everyone has a story to tell, and each person engages with information in different ways, and to varying degrees. The stories - and endorsement - of five celebrity readers made an attractive and inspiring presentation: Entrepreneur Tony Meloto, Cebu "chocolate queen" Raqual Choa, film director Brilliante Mendoza, opera singer Lara Maigue and former Chelsea footballers Phil and James Younghusband shared their stories and their enthusiasm for "my Inquirer" in each of its print and digital forms.

These were presented in print and digital ads, OOH billboards, online video and "in the flesh" at a gala trade event which preceded the launch. Here, advertisers, distributors and other partners shared the excitement which had been building for weeks at the publisher's offices. During this, Garcia emphasised brand unity and the importance of the growing mobile market: "The phone is where the action is, the one platform of the five that has to get the attention, whether readers or advertisers," he told guests. "The same editors who didn't think a story was a story until it appeared in print, are beginning to realise that there is money to be made and audiences to attract on mobile."

But he wasn't neglecting the importance of print, especially weekend editions "full of serendipity and surprises".

After the launch, minute-by-minute tracking of social media reported almost wholly positive reaction to the changes, and these were supported by new print and digital subscriptions - 700 of them on the first day - and advertisers. Three major advertisers committed to using formats that were new to them, and research showed that eight out of ten readers had explored new formats. "Internally, this was a huge a morale booster," says Bautista-Parmintuan.

Garcia is full of praise for the way in which she and her team, absorbed the many ideas involved and set about exciting audiences and advertisers. "She impressed me from the start with her professionalism, no nonsense approach to solving problems, and an open mind to understanding even the most minute nuances of what we were doing."

A key speaker at the trade event, chief executive Sandy Prieto-Romualdez expressed her pride at what the Inquirer team had achieved, and applauded partners, advertisers and readers for their support, and for "making our story their story". She says the publisher will continue to innovate: "With this launch, we have only scratched the surface."

Peter Coleman

Charmaine Bautista-Parmintuan was a speaker at the Publish Asia conference in Kuala Lumpur.

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