Learning from Al-Ghad [Archives:2007/1088/Reportage]

September 24 2007

Rashid Ali Al-Saqqaf
In a unique exchange between Arab newspapers, two staff members from the Yemen Times spent one week at the Al-Ghad paper in Jordan at the end of June 2007. Read about their impressions.

In the Arab culture they say travelling has seven benefits. I am not sure which these are, but I am convinced that gaining experience and learning from others must be one.

Together with Nasri Abubakr, the subscription officer at the Yemen Times, we visited the Amman-based Al-Ghad newspaper during one week in June. The trip happened within the framework of a bursary our newspaper received when our editor-in-chief Nadia al-Saqqaf won the 2007 Gebran Tueni Award. The purpose of the visit was to exchange experiences and get exposure to the marketing and advertisement techniques of Al-Ghad in order to benefit from them and apply whatever is suitable to the Yemen Times.

The reason we chose this newspaper, although it is not in English and Amman is definitely not Sana'a, is because Al-Ghad is an up-and-coming newspaper in the Arab world, which has made its marks in a remarkably short time, especially in the area of marketing and advertisement.

Customer satisfaction

The first thing we did, was to take a tour of the newspaper to see the different sections and get an overview of the way work is carried out at Al-Ghad. Needless to say, it was impressive!

I was impressed by the huge facilities and the large number of employees at the headquarters in Amman as well as around Jordan. I was also impressed by the common attitude that all of the staff shares regarding the establishment's strategy, which is customer satisfaction.

The newspaper is technically well equipped, and also has many cars and buses for transportation, marketing and distribution. Moreover, Al-Ghad uses a special software to coordinate between the various departments and to monitor the progress of tasks, as well as record the files of clients and update their information regularly.

Our visit in Al-Ghad included an introduction to the different programmes used in marketing and advertisement, as well as the client archiving and subscriptions database. We also visited the technical and design departments and saw how advertisements are designed and approved, and how the newspaper layout is done. The process is rather similar to that at the Yemen Times.

Connecting with clients

A good point of learning was how the marketers and the salesmen connect with their clients on a regular basis, and how they create personal relations that involve more than just business. I believe this is a successful way of marketing since it leads to the client trusting the newspaper more and becoming attached to it.

Other marketing strategies, which we also use at the Yemen Times, were the discounts for special clients, free advertising space for regular clients, and the complimentary gifts.

We then focused on the marketing, sales and subscription departments, and met with the heads of departments and some of the staff. We learned about their strategies and what they do to stay above competition and gain customer loyalty. Although some of the things they told us are not applicable to the Yemen Times, it was interesting to see how another newspaper operates.

We asked the staff of Al-Ghad about their customer satisfaction strategy and how to maintain the loyalty of clients. We also asked them about how they go about gaining new advertisers and the difficulties the marketing and distribution departments face in their work.

We also asked detailed questions about the daily routine such as assignment of daily tasks, reporting mechanisms, extent of independence given to the salespeople in terms of giving discounts and making agreements, and what other privileges are given to clients.

Differences between Jordan and Yemen

Following the discussions, we went on field visits with some of the employees. We accompanied them while they were doing their everyday work and learned from observation and direct questions.

They also asked us how we do things, and we explained to them the differences between our two newspapers, and how this influences the way we work.

Yemen Times gets 90% of its advertisements through direct marketing, compared to 10% through advertising agencies. Al-Ghad depends on indirect marketing where agencies generate around 80% of their advertisements, and only 20% through direct marketing.

Another difference is the high number of staff working within the subscriptions department, which is one of Al-Ghad's strengths. The Yemen Times depends on sales points much more than subscriptions, and this is one of the aspects we hope to work on in the coming months – how to increase our subscriptions.

An additional difference has to do with the economic differences between Yemen and Jordan. The purchase power in Jordan is much higher than in Yemen, and hence, the advertising agencies in Jordan can update the advertising agreements on an annual basis and adapt to the increase in prices without fear of losing clients. In Yemen, the number and strength of the advertising agencies is smaller, and because of the instability in the national economy, clients fear committing to one advertising agency for a longer period, and even fear committing to advertising in a newspaper on a long term, usually not exceeding one year.

Another significant difference is the readership and thus the difference in target market between the Yemen Times and Al-Ghad. Since the Yemen Times is an English-language newspaper it targets a different readership and market than Al-Ghad, which is in Arabic. This influences the advertising techniques and the products or services advertised.

The awareness regarding the importance of advertising is more mature in Jordan that in Yemen. Many businessmen in Yemen still do not acknowledge the importance of advertising to their business. In Jordan it is a growing industry and companies dedicate large sums to advertising and marketing every financial year.

Throughout the six days we stayed in Amman we benefited both professionally and personally, as we also visited several tourist attractions and met the delightful people of Amman. The infrastructure of the city made a strong impression on us.

This experience helped us expand our knowledge of other media establishments and other cultures. It is interesting to compare our work and our environment with others so that we can get a better sense of direction about where we are going and where we should be heading.

Rashid Ali Al-Saqqaf is the Marketing and Advertisement Manager, Yemen Times. This article was written to the Arab Press Network.