Wrote, edited and placed op-ed for quadrantONE in Mediapost

Newspapers Are Online Brands by Andy Ellenthal

My friend in Chicago is a crazed local sports fan who is known to check Cubs scores on his BlackBerry between making rounds as a medical resident. When I had dinner with him recently, he casually mentioned he read Tribune baseball writer Phil Rogers' column religiously because "he's got best Cubs articles, bar none." It really struck me that his off-hand comment was a perfect example of how hometown newspapers are still great subconscious brands for local readers.

When newspapers have garnered instantly recognizable local nicknames like "The Trib," and "Freep," it's easy to argue that these brands have built up as much brand equity as Apple, Target and Disney. Sure, brands can be eaten, drunk, played with or driven, but they can also be read.

Like the Good Housekeeping seal, newspapers have become the assumed guarantee of credible news and information, by other media, businesses and consumers as well. Leveraging this brand trust, the entire public relations industry is interested in earning newspaper coverage for companies that seek to improve their public identity.

Part of the reason newspaper brands are so pervasive is because they gracefully capture their audience offline and online: according to the current Nielsen Online numbers, people visiting newspaper sites hit a new high in the first quarter with an average of 73.3 million unique users, a 10.5% jump compared to the same period a year ago. That's like reaching almost an entire Super Bowl viewing audience every three months.

Carrying over from their print-based parents, the public has formed a trusted bond with the newspaper websites of their community, more so than with other media. An August 2008 Online Publishers Association study with Jupiter Research showed that local newspaper sites lead all others in advertising trust. What really gets me excited is that this trust spills into how consumers perceive advertising and ultimately take action from the information presented on these sites. The OPA study goes on to state that newspaper website readers are also more likely to spend and take action from the information presented by these publishers.

There you have it, the proof is in the pudding -- or really, the purchase.

Newspaper branding's next frontier may be on your mobile phone's screen, E-readers, and other Jetson-era gadgets. But rest assured the new technologies will include those familiar logos right next to the other apps you just downloaded. If you're waiting for your airport connecting flight, in a taxi rushing to your sales conference or even standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, you're going to trust those names for veteran political analysis, your favorite food critic discussing the latest restaurant opening, and first person notes of last night's town zoning meeting. So while the format may evolve and change, the trusted brands will remain.

Andy Ellenthal is the CEO of quadrantONE, a joint venture of major media companies that focuses on premium advertisers seeking prime audiences and national reach.