Marcelo Rech, the first general director for products at RBS Group, sees the future in hyperlocal news and a proactive and innovative online strategy to engage younger audiences.
Zero Hora, the group’s flagship title, is Brazil’s sixth largest newspaper by circulation, with 4.37 percent of the national market and an annual average circulation of 186,157 daily copies, according to Brazil’s circulation body, Instituto Verificador de Circulação.
Voted 2009 Young Reader Newspaper of the Year by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, Zero Hora has a 78 percent penetration rate among readers ages 20 to 29 in its market, and a 71 percent penetration rate among those ages 15 to 19.
RBS Group is headquartered in the southern city of Porto Alegre. Among other businesses, the media conglomerate’s television arm, RBS TV, contains 18 television stations. The company also owns 25 radio stations, eight newspapers and four Internet portals.
Zero Hora aims to expand its coverage and production of quality local content both in print and digitally.
“Local content is not available online with the quality traditionally offered by our product,” says Rech. “We are tapping into an audience not yet reached by digital products. With hyperlocal news, we create an immediate association between a brand that seemed distant with the quotidian of smaller communities,” he adds. “When a large communications group pays attention to street pavement in a small suburban city, that population feels, in a way, protected and defended.”
According to the World Bank’s World Development Indicators, about 37.5 percent of Brazilians are Internet users and the numbers are rising fast.
Engaging readers of all ages
Rech says the growth of digital media pushed for the strengthening of Zero Hora’s content quality. The paper seeks to improve its multimedia culture by training and hiring personnel, particularly for its online edition, applications’ development and hyperlocal websites. By the end of 2011, RBS expects to have more than 15 hyperlocal websites.
Rech guarantees Zero Hora is working hard for constant originality and creativity, and to offer stronger context and analysis in print to accompany straight news stories abundantly available online.
“Once news became a preferential territory online, the print newspaper identified its growth path and gained readers’ recognition precisely through the strengthening of reporting and analysis,” he says.
Zero Hora focuses on the differentiation of its online and print products and “their respective trademark traits.” The print edition carries more analysis, plurality of opinions and exclusive stories, while the online version focuses on breaking news and multimedia. Zero Hora then links its print and online content to increase interest across platforms. If the paper plans on including an exclusive story on the following day’s print issue, it will place a teaser on its website and add “to find out more read tomorrow’s paper.” The following day the story will be published in print first, and later online.
Zero Hora is also working to make its online version more innovative and interactive, to appeal to its younger audience. The staff takes advantage of Porto Alegre’s generally unstable weather and invites readers to send in pictures and short reports of storms. Readers of all ages are also invited to submit photos, audio and video pieces and reports of events happening in their neighbourhoods, cities or states for online publication. The best images can then be selected for print publication. Zero Hora welcomes content and opinion from its audiences. The circulation department asks around 120 readers what they think of the paper every day and then sends a detailed report to Rech by 1:00 p.m.
The paper also promotes story writing contests for children and adolescents, offering published stories or visits to the printing plant as a prize. Zero Hora tends to its younger audiences by including a children’s section, called ZH Criança (ZH Children), with series about childrens’ lives, games and contests. It also tends to young adults by offering information about universities, entrance exams, postgraduate studies and employment and career opportunities.
Rech says the newsroom has been integrated since 2007. Every member of the team is expected to understand and contribute to the work across different platforms. Zero Hora was one of the pioneers in having a social media editor, responsible for monitoring the newspaper’s social media presence and extracting valuable content from different portals.
Business strategies for the future
Grupo RBS uses its different businesses to carry out “regular cross-promotion.” The radio stations promote the newspaper’s print edition, which then refers to its website, which includes TV-produced content and so on. For coverage of important events, like the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the group focused on producing a strong synergy. While TV stations did most of the coverage, a TV reporter blogged on the newspaper’s online portal, and radio and print journalists participated in TV interviews and commentaries during the events.
Zero Hora began charging for access to its online content in September 2010. Stories published in print are behind a digital paywall or accessible only to print subscribers, while exclusive online content, including videos and blogs, can be accessed free of charge.
Zero Hora was also the first daily newspaper in the state of Rio Grande do Sul to launch an iPad application. By the end of 2011, the paper plans to have a second application.
Rech said Zero Hora was “well prepared for difficult moments” and survived the global financial crisis without having to make cuts. In fact, Grupo RBS’s eight newspapers grew in circulation in 2010, requiring increased investments in personnel and logistics.
All newsrooms are set to receive three types of training in 2011: expansion of multimedia culture to assist professionals in dealing with non-text media; offering senior editors a more strategic vision on changes in the media and communications environment; and classes for multimedia professionals on perfecting the use of voice and video.
In addition, RBS’s collaborators are going through an extensive meetings and workshops programme to strengthen the company’s core values and stimulate a culture of continued change. On March 3, 2011, Grupo RBS and BR Investments announced a partnership for the creation of HSM Education, to be based in São Paulo, offering executive training and editing courses and consultancy.
“As long as there is no complacency, whoever innovates and tends to audiences with adequate products and an obsession with quality will have a lot of room to grow in this new market,” Rech says. “With communications extremely fragmented, credible brands have a head start in conquering readers’ confidence and preference. We have a lot of faith in print, especially in Brazil were masses are only now reaching the market of media consumption. Millions of Brazilians are beginning to cohabit with newspapers, starting now.”
This interview and more will be available in the World Newsmedia Network’s upcoming World Newsmedia Innovation Study. To secure a free copy of the report, please take our survey, available in nine languages.