The Toronto Star gives it away

In its biggest promotion to date, the print giant hopes to boost GTA readership with free newsstand and vending box newspapers for the duration of the Olympics.

For the next two weeks, the Toronto Star is getting into the Olympic spirit by not charging a dime for its newsstand and vending box newspapers.

Bob Hepburn, Canada’s largest daily’s communications director, says the offer is part goodwill gesture and part promotion, an ambitious campaign designed to increase circulation.

‘With the Olympics in Canada, we wanted to do something special to make the Star more readily available to readers in the GTA,’ Hepburn tells MiC. ‘It also gives us a chance to showcase some of the work the reporters are doing out at Whistler and Vancouver.’

With single-sales print runs averaging 21,750 during the week and 57,250 on Saturdays, Hepburn says the Star is hoping to capitalize on Canada’s Olympic fever perpetuated by gold medal hopefuls and winners – like moguls specialist Alexandre Bilodeau and snowboarder Maelle Ricker – by substantially increasing print runs by 35,000 to 40,000 copies Monday to Friday and another 75,0000 on Saturday, from Feb. 13 through March 1.

According to the latest audited circulation figures that Hepburn says were provided in 2008, the Star’s weekday circulation – including subscriptions – is 419,000, while Saturday numbers total 608,000.

Hepburn says his newspaper is hoping for a small readership boost.

‘It’s quite an extensive promotion,’ Hepburn tells MiC. ‘We do expect the program will increase our readership by about 2% on weekdays and 3% on Saturdays.’

In support of the campaign, the Star has enlisted Genesis Vizeum – as well as internal resources – for a concentrated media buy that includes 15-second contra spots on Global, City-TV, CBC TV and Omni.

Several 30-second radio spots, also developed in-house, are appearing on radio stations 103.5, 88.5 The Jewel, Classical 96.3-FM, AM 740, 680News and CFRB 1010.

Consumers are also being offered a special five-month, 98-cent-per-week home delivery promotion, should they wish to subscribe to the paper.

There is no online or social-media element to the campaign, and Hepburn, who refuses to disclose how much this promotion is costing the paper in newsstand sales alone, says there is no specific target demographic.

The newspaper hopes that just enough people will be impressed by the thorough Olympic coverage and the quality of journalism for the campaign to continue to resonate with potential subscribers long after the Games are over.

As it stands, Hepburn says this is the company’s biggest public promotion to date.

The Star has never done anything quite to this extent,’ he admits.