The Mario Blog
10.01.2008—10am
The Oklahoman, Day 3: Reacting to what readers say about a redesign

TAKEAWAY: It never fails: with every redesign project comes a mixed reaction from the readers; however, it is the ones who don’t like the new look who write, phone and email more consistently. Here I answer your three questions about it.

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Above, today’s front page of The Oklahoman: notice the first edition on the left, and city edition on the right, with some changes in treatment of the lead package about the U.S. bailout package.

Some like us, some don’t

Almost two dozen readers of TheMarioBlog have written me emails in the past 48 hours asking me how I take the reactions of readers about the new look of The Oklahoman.

Of course, nobody likes to receive negative reactions. Figure that the team and I have worked for almost one year leading to the launch of this new rethinking of The Oklahoman. It is the same in every project: it is out there for the world to see, and the readers who are quicker with their messages are the ones who find fault with it, although, I have to admit that we got plenty of “love it” messages this time.

I have picked THREE of your email questions, as I thought they would be of interest to many contemplating a redesign in the future, and, of course, would make sense to those who have already lived through a similar experience:

Your questions:

Overall, what advice do you have for the staffs of the newspapers and magazines that you redesign about a barrage of negative comments from readers?

I think that change is not easy for many readers to accept; they see their newspaper as a member of the family, so when change occurs, it is an experience that shakes them, and the first reaction is negative, and they let their editors know about it. My advice: keep cool, establish dialog with the unhappy readers, and reassure them that a little bit of time will allow them to get used to the new product—-and to even love it, after a while.

Do you ever invite readers to come and discuss their complaints with the editors and you personally?

Although I have never been part of such a meeting, I imagine that it could prove helpful. If any of my readers have had similar experiences that they would like to share, please post a comment here. However, I know that the marketing/circulation departments of every newspaper I ever worked with do take reader reactions seriously, setting up special telephone answering units for the first week of a redesign, with trained receptionists who are there to assist and to calm down readers who may not be too happy when they call.

In one case, one of my clients in Denmark had the brightest idea: to create plaques with an image of the front page of the last issue with the old look, to send to any readers who felt passionate about how the newspaper looked before, but who did not like the existing look.

How long does it take for a newspaper or magazine redesign to turn opinion around? When do you see readers beginning to like it, or sales to go up?

I feel that it takes a good four weeks and about three Sunday editions for readers to begin to get comfortable with a new look and content distribution. It is a normal process, as when you change the furniture or décor of your home. As for sales results? This is a trickier question, and depends more on content than a specific design-related issue. I would say that it takes a minimum of six months to start seeing results in, let’s say, street sales, and perhaps less for subscriptions—-assuming that the relaunch was accompanied by a strong subscription drive, aided by the online edition.

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The launch of Paris Match’s new rethinking, which premieres in France with the October 2 edition. Read all about my experience with one of the world’s iconic magazines.

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Home in Tampa, Florida the rest of this week.

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