Times C.E.O. touts advertising ‘innovation’ following report of sales struggles

The New York Times building. (wallyg via flickr)
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The New York Times' sales team got a vote of confidence from chief executive Mark Thompson, just two days after a report that the paper of record's sales reps are struggling.

On a conference call with Wall Street analysts this morning, Thompson touted Meredith Kopit Levien, the Times' new executive vice president of advertising, who "has already begun to make an impact on the structure and organization of our sales team," he said.

Thompson said a "key focus" for Levien will be "innovation in and development of our digital advertising propositions."

To that end, Levien revealed in a Monday interview with Ad Age that the Times is planning to sell native advertising and branded content on its new website next year.

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Thompson also said the Times is "determined" to "restore [its advertising revenues] to growth." In the third quarter of 2013, according to the latest financial results released today, print and digital advertising revenues decreased 1.6 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively.

In its third-quarter earnings report, the Times Company said it experienced its "lowest quarterly year-on-year decline in advertising in three years."

But as Bloomberg's Edmund Lee reported on Tuesday, "the total amount fell below $140 million. That’s the lowest level since at least 1998, when the Times began reporting the ad revenue of its individual papers."

Lee also reported that a high turnover rate and diminished budgets within the sales department are "hampering" the ad-revenue recovery.

On the bright side, the luxury advertising category was strong during the third quarter, said Thompson, who cited the "success of T magazine," the Times' leisure and style supplement, "as a great platform for fashion advertising." He also said the Times has seen "a broader front of improvement across more categories for some quarters now."

Overall, the Times Company posted a $24 million loss during the third quarter of 2013 from the same three-month period a year earlier. Noted in today's results was the company's August agreement to sell The Boston Globe for roughly $70 million. The sale was completed last week, reflecting the Times Company's ongoing efforts to refocus resources around its core brand while aiming for global and digital growth.

As has been the trend in recent quarters, an increase in consumer-driven circulation revenues helped mitigate the ongoing advertising decline.

Paid digital subscriptions to the Times and its sister title, The International Herald Tribune (now called The International New York Times), rose to 727,000 at the end of the quarter, an increase of more than 28 percent compared from the third quarter of 2012, the company said. Revenues from digital subscription packages totaled $37.7 million, up 29 percent.

The Times is planning to roll out a new suite of tiered digital-subscription options in the first half of 2014.

It's also expanding its conference business. Thompson said the paper will host a "record" number of 19 domestic and international conferences in 2014.