The Problem

For more than 150 years the Richmond Times-Dispatch was central Virginia’s trusted and indispensible source for credible news. The paper thrived as a provider of fast, reliable information for readers and a strong advertising vehicle for local businesses. But as the Internet matured through the 90s and into the new millennia, the Richmond Times Dispatch—like the rest of the industry—faced a crisis of steadily dropping readership and advertising revenue.

For years, the paper fought back by creating new sources of revenue. It acquired community newspapers, developed specialty publications, used events to promote itself, developed specialized advertising services and a built a separately branded website to remove the stigma of being outdated. But, while offerings grew, interest continued to suffer.


Our Solution

In 2014, they asked Joe Smith to help re-assess their brand and diverse set of offers. We immediately got to work by constructing an architecture of their entire brand portfolio. The process revealed many products—some with multiple brandmarks. Offers that we’re branded had no real brand value, while others that weren’t had great opportunity to position better. And, the master brand that was being diluted by its separately branded online portal. To better understand people’s reading habits and perceptions of the Richmond Times-Dispatch family of brands, we conducted a series of discussions and creative sessions with different customer segments, and launched a survey to subscribers and non-subscribers.

The results were unexpected. Findings established that the brand still had strong positive equity with younger and older age groups alike, despite the dwindling circulation numbers. While they saw Richmond Times-Dispatch as traditional and slow to innovate, they still placed a high degree of trust in the quality of their content, and saw it as a pillar of the community. A quality other news organizations in the area couldn’t match. That said, very few people could put a finger on what print, digital or event products the Richmond Times-Dispatch actually owned. And, despite a long and passionate track record for doing so, community members felt the organization wasn’t going far enough to cover and support local news and events.

Insights led to the conclusion that improving the brand architecture was step one to a larger, long-term plan that would evolve the role the traditional news organization was playing in the broader Richmond metropolitan area. Joe Smith set out to build and recommend an approach for a new brand architecture that would create a more enduring master brand and allow for growth into an evolving business model.  We built a plan for creating the modern version of a Town Square. A place where news was shared, conversation and debate were held, goods and services were sold and culture came to life.

Our solution included two steps: First, create a simpler and cleaner naming and brand mark system that applied clear brand values to a smaller set of content properties. The model eliminated the online brand, and re-grouped content that readers demonstrated high interest in – such as a locally-managed classifieds marketplace and locally curated cultural content. Next, use consistent and incremental innovations capable of wooing both readers and advertisers that would also build toward a future-state business model. The approach would mitigate the habit of developing brands for anything that might peak an advertiser’s interest, and place more focus on improving the subscriber experience. 


The Results

After testing the new architecture and business model with the general public, we provided the Richmond Times-Dispatch a restructured brand architecture that designated a specific role for each property inside of the organization. 

We delivered standards for brand application and are involved in on-going discussions around improvements to new subscriber experiences.