Times Union: Bringing Print to Life

The Times Union, a Hearst publication based in Albany, NY, is a daily newspaper serving the capital region of New York. In addition to the newspaper's print circulation of 68,000, its website has more than 200,000 unique visitors per month. Times Union provides readers with the latest news, weather, entertainment, and sports information, and covers a wide range of industries including real estate and the automobile industry.

With increased competition for advertising dollars from Internet-based competitors, automotive advertising manager Randy Lewis and real estate manager Michael Funk were searching for solutions to reinvigorate interest with advertisers. After seeing Quick Response (QR) codes in advertisements placed in national publications, Larry Flynn, a sales assistant for automotive at the newspaper, broached the topic of using QR codes in the automotive department of the Times Union.

QR codes are two-dimensional barcodes that may be placed on a printed piece or online. When the code is scanned by a mobile device installed with a QR code reader, such as a smartphone, the user is immediately directed to content on the Web. Lewis and Funk agreed with Flynn that QR codes would be a way to provide advertisers with a new method to engage their target audiences through print and digital, and therefore provide new revenue to the newspaper.

Keeping the Conversation Going

"In recent years, newspapers have been challenged by the Internet. We've lost our dominance as the best outlet for advertising. What excited us about QR codes is that they create a direct link from print to the Internet," Funk said. "We thought that QR codes could be especially helpful for our real estate advertisers, where consumers want to have an experience with potential property through color pictures and videos. A QR code directs users immediately to learn about a house they might be interested in, directly from their mobile device."

Flynn researched a dozen different software solutions that generate QR codes. Finding a solution that provided the ability to track the use of QR codes quickly emerged as the most important issue for the paper. Not only did Times Union need to see the metrics for themselves, but the management team knew it was vital information to provide its advertisers as well. Knowing how many times a code was scanned, when the codes were being scanned, and what users are doing when directed to the online content would provide valuable insight into what truly interested the user, and help in creating future marketing campaigns.

During his research, Flynn discovered interlinkONE, a provider of Web-based marketing software solutions, and was excited about the tracking capabilities of interlinkONE's QReate and Track solution, Web-based software to create and track QR codes. QReate and Track is equipped with a dashboard that has real-time reporting of codes that have been generated through the software. It was the combination of the advanced tracking capability and the easily accessible online information about the company and its software that made it the obvious choice for Times Union.

Success with Implementation

After selecting QReate and Track, the next step was to educate advertisers and readers about the technology. The newsroom published an article about the increasing popularity of QR codes to raise public awareness. To generate interest with advertisers, Times Union sales representatives handed out business cards with QR codes printed on them that had been created using the software. The Times Union proved to be the first paper in the region to use QR codes.

The automotive sales department and the real estate sales department were the first to experience immediate success with generating QR codes and using the software's tracking capabilities to attract advertisers. The automotive department is using QR codes to enhance advertisements from local car dealerships. The codes direct readers who scan them to a website where additional information on the vehicle can be found. Lewis said the automotive department and its advertisers have been pleased with the scan rates of the QR codes. On the low end, the newspaper is finding any one code is scanned at least nine to 20 times.

Realtors and builders have also been early adopters of QR codes. It was not difficult to convince these advertisers that this new trend enhances print advertising. The real estate department has seen solid traffic with codes used with its "Gallery of Homes", an assembly of photos, homes for sale, and open houses.

Other departments have followed suit and have also found success with the QR codes. The manager of Times Union's coupon magazine was skeptical of QR codes, so he decided to do a trial run and place 10 codes in the magazine. They were so successful that there is now a QR code on every advertisement for the more than 100 printed advertisements in the book.

A local restaurant participated in the trial run and while the owner was also hesitant, he too experienced the benefits from an advertisement enhanced with a QR Code. The code directed users to the restaurant's menu or "Contact us" page on its website. The restaurant owner was impressed that two days after the coupon magazine came out his advertisement had been scanned almost 90 times. He now reserves a specific spot in all his advertisements for a QR code. The tracking capabilities of QReate and Track make it possible for Times Union to provide advertisers with valuable measurements of the QR code success to demonstrate the value of QR codes.

New Revenue Sources

The Times Union expects use of QR codes to increase as awareness of QR codes increases. Flynn has been creative in thinking of new ways to use QR codes to generate new revenue for the Times Union and build upon the newspaper's relationship with car dealerships. For dealers of used cars, which don't have the new car sticker in their windows, the Times Union is using QReate and Track to print large QR codes for displays in individual used cars on a dealer's lot. This enables prospective customers to scan the code with their smartphone and immediately have access to the vehicle's information right at their fingertips, and right at the moment of interest.

"We look forward to all the new possibilities available to us with interlinkONE's QReate and Track software. QR codes are not only very popular right now, but thanks to QReate and Track we have the measurements to show their success to our advertisers," Lewis says. "This allows us to enhance our print offerings to advertisers and simultaneously create new revenue for the paper. And that was our goal. Partnering with interlinkONE has helped us achieve it."