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Why 17 Hollywood Stars Are Plugging a Newspaper They Can't Read


A tiny paper in the Russian Urals proves that having the right connections is everything.

Kopeyski Rabochi ("Kopeysk Worker") is a tiny newspaper in Kopeysk, Siberia, which is close to Chelyabinsk, a city that received worldwide attention earlier this year when it was hit by a meteor strike. The newspaper's circulation of about 9,000 print copies is roughly 164 times smaller than that of the Wall Street Journal (NASDAQ:NWSA), and 81 times smaller than that of the New York Times (NYSE:NYT), and that's not including those site's digital subscribers. And yet neither of those media heavyweights has the free publicity tools that Kopeyski Rabochi is using: photos of Hollywood's A-list stars reading its paper.

On April 1, 2011, the newspaper published a round-up of mostly false stories for April Fools' Day. Readers were asked to guess which piece of news was actually true. Only three people voted for a brief article about Johnny Depp and his appreciation for the small newspaper in Siberia. They were convinced by a photo of Depp holding and supposedly reading the paper.

And they were right -- the photo was not a fake.

In fact, the publisher of Kopeyski Rabochi has collected a full album of celebrities including Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Angelina Jolie, Emma Watson, and about 15 other Hollywood personalities, each reading a copy of the small-town paper, which is printed in Russian, of course.

A full photo gallery surfaced on the Internet this September. It went viral almost immediately on Vkontakte, the social media site known as the Russian Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), and on other major media outlets.

So how did it all happen?

In a recent editorial, Dmitry Sogrin, the paper's editor, wrote, "For a couple of years, we've been running movie announcements and mini-interviews with actors.... Our friends and colleagues in Hollywood, in return, sent us these celebrity photos."

Key to the operation is Margarita Sushkevich, a Kopeysk-born woman who moved to the US more than a decade ago. She married Jack Tewksbury, the Hollywood producer behind the annual Golden Globe Awards. In 2008, the duo started submitting movie previews and star interviews to the newspaper in Margarita's hometown. Kopeyski Rabochi received not only conventional photos of stars in the news, but also personalized photos in which actors posed with hard copies of Kopeyski Rabochi as if they were regular readers.

Surprisingly, the paper's editors were reluctant to promote its famous readership. Except for that April Fools' Day round-up in 2011, and a calendar that was circulated (not very widely) in late 2012, few people knew of the Kopeysk-Hollywood connection. Now, with the attention it has received from the Web story, the paper might reconsider its approach to marketing. It has been reported that the editor wants to gather 30 photos and organize an exhibition at the local community center.

Since the photos went viral in Russia, the newspaper's website traffic has increased fivefold -- from about 1,000 readers per day to 5,000. Still, the editor has said that his core audience is unlikely to change its tastes too much. "Our readers are more interested in news about miners, retired people, and utility costs," Sogrin said. "Hollywood stars are too far away."

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