MEDIA: National push for local press - Will the future of advertising be in local papers?

The regional press has suddenly become big news. The combination of a high profile marketing campaign, courtesy of The Newspaper Society, another set of relatively stable ABC figures, and continuing mergers and acquisitions - making the regional publishers more and more powerful - have all contributed to the much heralded local newspaper renaissance.

The regional press has suddenly become big news. The combination of

a high profile marketing campaign, courtesy of The Newspaper Society,

another set of relatively stable ABC figures, and continuing mergers and

acquisitions - making the regional publishers more and more powerful -

have all contributed to the much heralded local newspaper


But does all this add up to the regional press truly coming of age, or

is it merely market bluster? The Newspaper Society has been working hard

to change perceptions in the marketing community. Last month it embarked

on the second stage of its pounds 3m campaign.

The first stage began in April with press ads promoting the regional

press, while the second stage involved 20,000 questionnaires going out

to the media and marketing community, consulting them on what they think

the regional press needs to change.

’We’re going out to national customers and the feedback that comes in

will form the basis of the third stage of the campaign next year when we

publish a manifesto for action, says Chris Stanley, marketing director

of The Newspaper Society.

’Things we’re looking at are online booking systems, electronic delivery

of art work, and things that we don’t necessarily do proactively at the

moment. We’re looking at more added value packaging. We think we can

address them all and next year will start to see some major changes,’ he


Using the regional press

This campaign is very much based on The Newspaper Society’s desire to

get more national advertisers using the regional press. But while the

statistics on regional press may make compelling reading, many national

advertisers are still wary of using the medium.

Stanley remains resolute on their use to national advertisers. ’The

regional press is read by 90% of UK adults every week, there are 40

million adults reading local newspapers. It’s more cost efficient for

advertisers to use and it gets people into shops and buying things,’ he


Depending on who you talk to, those blamed for failing to recognise the

relevance of regional press are either the ad agencies who only want to

do sexy TV ads, or the London-centric clients who don’t understand the

value and importance the local press plays in people’s lives outside the


This is not entirely fair, as many in the industry are very tuned in to

the benefits of regional press, but at the same time are concerned about

some very valid issues. Cost is one of them. With media commonly

measured in cost per thousand, it isn’t surprising that clients and

agencies use this measurement to determine the effectiveness of local

press. And on a cost per thousand basis, regional press proves very


Mike McCormack, chief executive of Amra, admits there have been some

very high premiums, but clients have to understand the value for money

they are getting.

’The premium has to reflect incremental value. Advertisers have to

acknowledge it’s not about cost per thousand, it’s cost per thousand

responses that’s more important. Rates have been very sensible,

especially with negotiations for volume in the past, and still we’re

saddled with the image that we’re too expensive,’ he says.

Some media buyers want a mixed payment structure making it cheaper for

national advertisers to come into the market. This is a sentiment

recognised by The Newspaper Society. ’We must address high costs, but

cost per thousand is not the right way to address it. We have to make

advertisers more aware of the other things they are buying for the


’But it is right to look at more effective cost structures, perhaps with

more test marketing to encourage national advertisers to try our medium

more and then see how effective it is,’ says Stanley.

Need for regional presence

For this medium to be cost-effective, clients and agencies have to

determine why a specific brand needs to advertise in the local press

When the need for regional presence is there - be it for up-weighting or

because of a particular local offer - the costs have to be considered as

an essential part of the marketing mix.

The great advantage for regional press is that it is highly


’There are reasons to use the medium: when companies are talking to

small or local communities or customers, or when big blue chip companies

want to show that they do come into people’s lives on a local basis.

It’s saying something about big corporate companies if they get to the

grass roots,’ says Priscilla Rogan, press director at Mediapolis.

Sheila Hunt, associate director of MediaCom TMB, adds: ’Typically the

regional press has been used by national advertisers - predominantly

retail - to support individual outlets, for example, new store openings

and refits, and obviously the way regional press can target specific

locations makes it a very appropriate medium for this sort of activity.

However, what the regional press has failed to communicate to national

advertisers is that it can be a very cost-effective means of

up-weighting regions where the national press has a weak presence, such

as Scotland.

Specific communities

’It also offers a way of addressing specific communities with well

thought through creative work, without being patronising or making them

feel excluded from what is obviously a national (south east)


With the devolution of Scotland and Wales this is becoming increasingly

important, but what national advertisers should also consider are other

areas of the country where the population has a strong allegiance to its

roots, such as the North East, Cornwall and Northern Ireland,’

she says.

Because of the local nature of their offers through their stores and

dealerships, retailers and car manufactures have always been supportive

of the regional press. But the changing business environment means other

sectors are now having to regionalise their message. The utility market,

since it opened up to competition, is a prime example.

Jane Saint, advertising co-ordination manager for British Gas Trading,

says: ’We know that those who read the regional press are interested in

local issues. So its role is to communicate locally relevant messages -

there’s no benefit in repeating an ad in the national press in a local

title. But the development of the energy market means British Gas does

have local messages which it can put out in some areas depending on the

competitive environment.

’We’ve been advertising local pricing messages about our electricity

being cheaper than local suppliers in East Anglia, Scotland and more

recently London.’

Saint says the company is still testing the campaign’s effectiveness and

says that on its own it isn’t the answer, it has to be part of a broader


’The cost has to be balanced with the benefits. It’s not necessarily the

same value for money, but it does give the target audience. Some

messages are only specific to certain areas, and some messages are quite

complicated to explain, so you can only do that in the local press, you

couldn’t do it on radio or posters.

’British Gas’ brand work is mainly done at national level, but local

profile can be important as it needs to be at the forefront of people’s

minds when they are making decisions,’ she adds.

The need for local messages is relatively obvious for British Gas, but

other, initially less obvious, candidates are also making use of its


One of MediaCom TMB’s clients is SmithKline Beecham and it has used

local press for its Solpadeine brand. SKB sales are strongest in

Scotland, Wales and the North East, so ads tailored to the region they

appeared in were placed in the local press as a way of uplifting those


Effect on sales performance

’We have run two regional campaigns for the Solpadeine brand of

analgesics in the regional press. This was planned by selecting key

areas, the dominant title within those areas and running a high

frequency campaign. This not only had a positive effect on the sales

performance, but as an additional benefit, acted as a motivational tool

for the local sales team,’ says Hunt.

But there are other factors to be considered. The last set of ABC

figures showed a slight dip in circulation of the regional press. The

majority of the media industry seems to accept that in the greater

scheme of things this is nothing to worry about, but the long-term

impact of this is an issue to address.

’Over the past three or four years the industry has improved


Also, across other mainstream media we’re seeing audience fragmentation

and shrinking.

’There are so many choices available to the public it’s an

inevitability, and regional press has performed much better than almost

all other media.

But all media will see audience fragmentation and sales of printed

product won’t be higher in five years than it is now, the challenge is

to maintain it,’ says Stanley.

One area local press can expand into, and in many ways are well

positioned to own, are community-based web sites. With a heritage

established on local information gathering and campaigning, the web is a

natural progression for regional press.

’Most local newspapers have web sites and a number of titles are getting

vast audiences. Titles such as Belfast Telegraph, Bristol Evening Post

and the Portsmouth News are each getting hundreds of thousands of

visitors to them. No other media owner can replicate that number of

people on the ground. The challenge is the delivery of the service in

the way local people want to receive it,’ adds Stanley.

New media may be just one area that local press can expand and invest

in. For while the media industry may differ on its views of regional

press as a cost-effective advertising medium, they are unanimous in

recognising how the shifts in ownership and consolidation taking place

is putting more investment into regional press.

Only a matter of three or four years ago much of the regional press was

owned by multimedia companies, happy to cream off the profits from their

regional titles to support other areas of their empire, with the

consequence of starving the regionals of the investment they


Now the majority of the industry is owned by companies entirely focused

on regional publishing, and the long awaited investment is there.

Indeed, as Trinity’s bid for the Mirror Group has shown, it is the

regional publishers who are enjoying powerful positions in the media

industry these days.

’It gives us great credibility. It’s not about gloating but it’s

comforting to know we have that kind of clout,’ says McCormack.

Stanley adds: ’The ownership situation is very healthy and I think they

will continue as it’s a relatively unconsolidated industry. There’s more

economies of scale to be realised.’

Attractive rates to clients

But will the continuing consolidation be good news for advertisers? ’The

consolidation of the medium could be beneficial for advertisers as it

should be possible for publishers to offer much more attractive rates to

clients using groups of titles.

However, a more cynical approach could be that this will work to the

detriment of advertisers in that groups of titles, with monopolies in

increasingly larger areas of the country, will harden their rates,’ says


Others fear that the quality of the product may diminish, with

newspapers running more syndicated editorial and less local news as a

way of cutting costs.

But while there are clearly issues to address in the regional press, and

still more work needed to be done to prove to national advertisers that

a local message is what their campaign needs, there is no doubting the

buoyant mood felt by those working in the regional press.

And with the marketing gurus constantly talking about the need for more

targeted messages, if regional press can evolve its offering to national

advertisers, it looks more and more likely to be included as part of the

marketing mix.


Rk  Newspaper Title                        Circulation     % chge

                                          Jan-Jun 1999

1   Birmingham Evening Mail (Mon-Fri)         192,692*      -1.3%

2   West Midlands Express & Star (Mon-Fri)     188,888      -2.4%

3   Manchester Evening News (Mon-Fri)          180,518      +0.5%

4   Liverpool Echo (Mon-Fri)                   160,725      -0.7%

5   Belfast Telegraph                          124,724      -4.6%

6   Leicester Mercury                          114,011      -1.6%

7   Glasgow Evening Times (Mon-Fri)            112,333      -4.5%

8   Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Evening Chronicle      111,178      -3.9%

9   Leeds - Yorkshire Evening Post (Mon-Fri)   104,380      +0.6%

10  Stoke-On-Trent - The Sentinel               92,973      -1.7%

11  Shropshire Star (Mon-Fri)                   90,051      -1.6%

12  Hull Daily Mail & Sports Mail               87,616      -1.3%

13  Sheffield Star (Mon-Fri)                    86,870      -2.0%

14  Coventry Evening Telegraph & The Pink       82,364      +0.0%

15  Bristol Evening Post                        81,242      -1.5%

16  Edinburgh Evening News (Mon-Fri)            79,239      -5.3%

17  Portsmouth - The News & Sports Mail         73,161      +2.0%

18  Cardiff - South Wales Echo                  73,129      -3.7%

19  Aberdeen - Evening Express                  66,988      -1.8%

20  Teesside Evening Gazette                    65,219      -2.4%


Birmingham Evening Mail

Owner: Trinity Mirror Editor: Ian Dowell

Circulation: 192,692 (Jan-June 99)*

Price: 30p

The Birmingham Daily Mail was founded as a broadsheet in 1870, by Sir

John Jaffrey and John Feeney, proprietors of the Birmingham Daily Post

and the Birmingham Weekly Post.

Its first four-page edition sold 10,000 copies with a cover price of a

halfpenny each.

In 1913, Feeney’s nephew, Charles Hyde, took over ownership and in May

1917 he renamed the paper the Birmingham Mail.

The paper went to the tabloid format in 1975 and was renamed the

Birmingham Evening Mail.

However, the news this month that its circulation figures have been

overstated for the past six years means that the figures have been

withdrawn from the ABC system, while an investigation is carried


Depending on the outcome of the investigation, it may mean that the West

Midlands Express & Star will take over the top evening paper slot.

The Express & Star was launched in 1874 by Thomas Graham and is still

owned by the Graham family, which also owns the Shropshire Star.

It is a tabloid and sells for 30p on the street and 27p if


The paper targets the family market and has many localised editions.

Regular national advertisers include the likes of Telewest, Asda and


The Aberdeen Press and Journal

Owner: Northcliffe Newspapers Group

Editor: Derek Tucker

Circulation: 104,084 (Jan-Jun 99)

Price: 35p

The Press and Journal is the UK’s oldest daily newspaper. It dates back

to 1747, when Aberdeen’s town printer, James Chalmers, published his

eyewitness account of events at the Battle of Culloden.

Public demand for his writing led him to launch the weekly Aberdeen’s

Journal in January 1748. It was a huge success until his death in 1764,

after which it became a family-run business.

The Aberdeen Journal faced fierce competition from The Aberdeen Free

Press, which was launched in April 1953. When the Free Press went daily

in 1872, the Chalmers family turned their paper into a public business

and launched the Aberdeen Daily Journal.

In 1922, the Free Press and the Aberdeen Daily Journal merged to become

the Aberdeen Press and Journal, renamed The Press and Journal this


Today, The Press and Journal is the largest regional morning


It faces competition on a local level from 36 paid-for and free

newspapers across its area. It produces 11 different editions across the

north of Scotland.

National companies that regularly advertise in the paper include

Vauxhall, EasyJet, BT and John Lewis.

Dundee Sunday Post

Owner: DC Thomson & Co

Editor: Russell Reid

Circulation: 709,513

Price: 55p

The Sunday Post was launched by DC Thomson & Co in 1914, and it has

retained its original title. Filled with news, views and features with a

Scottish flavour, it aims to have something for every member of the


Its target audience are Scottish adults aged over 35 years with

families, and it claims to be ’the paper with people at heart’. As such,

the content of the paper is largely family-oriented human interest


There is a seven-page section called Family Matters, 12 pages of sports

coverage, and pop and games news on the Stuff page for the younger


Women constitute 55% of the Post’s readership, and the colour magazine

section is designed to appeal to them. It offers articles on cookery,

fashion and beauty and home decorating, and promotes itself as ’what

women have been waiting for’. As a paper concerned with local issues, it

features investigative articles and topical campaigns, tackling news

topics and presenting them from a family perspective. TV presenter

Lorraine Kelly is a regular columnist.

National companies that regularly advertise include Lunn Poly, Toyota

and Sun Life.

*Birmingham Evening Mail circulation figures are currently being

investigated by the ABC.


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