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
’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,’
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
’We’ve been advertising local pricing messages about our electricity
being cheaper than local suppliers in East Anglia, Scotland and more
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
’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
TOP 20 UK REGIONAL EVENINGS
Rk Newspaper Title Circulation % chge
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%
BIGGEST SELLING REGIONAL TITLES
Birmingham Evening Mail
Owner: Trinity Mirror Editor: Ian Dowell
Circulation: 192,692 (Jan-June 99)*
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
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)
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
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.