Charting the regions

Amid the doom and gloom of falling ad revenues, the regional press has been a beacon, driving up its market share through clever campaigning, good research and investment in new technologies, led by its trade body. By Ian Whiteling

National advertising is no longer the be-all and end-all of campaigns. Advertising in the UK’s regional press – made up of more than 1,300 titles – is growing in popularity. Revenue rose by 2.6 per cent between 2000 and 2001 (2002 Advertising Association Yearbook), pushing its market share above 20 per cent and maintaining its position as the UK’s second largest advertising medium behind television.

The regional press is performing impressively in a climate in which other leading UK media show declining advertising revenues: national press is down by 8.3 per cent, radio by 9.1 per cent and TV, the biggest casualty, by 10.7 per cent. What’s more, regional press advertising is growing not just in terms of its traditional classified local base, but also through its national display revenue.

Advertising agency bds beechwood believes one sector driving this growth is retail, a major source of advertising for regional press. Managing director John Wood explains: “If you look through most regional newspapers, they’re dominated by offer-led retail advertising. At the moment, the retail trade is buoyant as consumer spending remains high.”

Wood says that retailers have tapped into a way of targeting their advertising that many other sectors could also benefit from: “Retailers have learnt that they need to be operating on a national as well as a local basis, and that the regional press is a cost-effective way of doing it, as they are able to target individual stores or groups of stores. Although the regional press might not be as efficient as TV or national press in terms of cost per person seeing your ad, it has two major advantages: geography and close targeting.”

In addition to national brands wishing to improve their targeting there are thousands of small to medium-sized companies, which often have no interest in advertising nationally, as their client base is local. The fact that this is the UK’s fastest-growing business sector could also help to explain the success of the regional press.

As Evening Standard head of media planning Neville Toptani points out: “The current downturn has mostly affected businesses with a national as opposed to local bias – specifically the technology and personal finance sectors. These, along with other “virtual” brands, often have little or no physical presence around which to base a local strategy. This makes it more difficult to forge relationships with communities on a geographical level and also reduces their ‘regional mindset’. Retailers – even national ones – recognise the benefits of engaging with communities to boost their positioning strategy.”

Bucking the trend

Although the regional press itself can do little about overall economic factors, the sector is taking the initiative in other ways. For many years, the regional press failed to act together, making it difficult to place advertising across a range of titles, and giving little statistical back-up to its claims of high local readership levels. Then, in 1998, the Newspaper Society (NS) – the UK’s regional press trade association – decided to rectify the problem, launching a &£3m a year generic marketing campaign. The campaign, Creating New Perspectives, aims to increase regional press’s share of the national advertising market. It was given added impetus by the fact that the regional press was going through a consolidation phase, meaning fewer companies were involved and making it easier for them to work together as an industry.

Gary McNish, managing director of Amra, the UK’s largest regional sales house, says: “We needed to change clients’ perception from clients that the regional press was not ‘sexy’. The campaign has helped put us at the front of buyers’ minds.”

Creating New Perspectives had two main aims: to improve the image and profile of local newspapers and to make it easier to plan, buy and administer regional advertising campaigns. Through a regular series of conferences addressing key issues, and by commissioning research, it has succeeded on almost every level.

McNish says: “Despite there being more than 1,300 titles, buying regional advertising is no longer complex – five main sales points cover 88 per cent of the industry. We can now provide any kind of demographic or market breakdown for advertisers together with creative selling solutions, backed up by well trained sales staff, many of whom hold NS’s National Sales Qualification.”

As an example, all advertising sales staff at the Yorkshire Evening Post undertake a six-week ad

vertising design training course, working with clients. Creativity is now a key criterion in monthly staff assessments. This policy, combined with regular brainstorming sessions and an “open door” working environment that encourages creative thinking, is proving successful and has resulted in many award-winning campaigns.

NS has also led &£100m investment in colour facilities throughout the industry. Then there are the online developments, such as AdFast, an Internet advertising artwork delivery system, through which advertisers and agencies can send artwork to regional newspapers free of charge. AdFast was upgraded recently and now handles more than 5,000 files a week.

Another example is the online advertisement planning tool at planregionalpress.co.uk. Launched earlier this year, the tool is a database with details of more than 3,500 sections, supplements, directories and niche publications produced by regional and local press publishers. NS marketing director David Hoath says: “I’m sure many agencies and advertisers are unaware of the plethora of editorial opportunities the regional press offers. This valuable planning information is now stored centrally and will aid the process of planning regional press campaigns, making the medium’s unique targeting capabilities more accessible to all.”

Read all about it

Publicising these developments has been a key task for NS, but arguably more important is the research it has commissioned to provide hard facts and figures. The Renaissance of Regional Nations report, published in 2000, put forward some powerful arguments for the growth of local identity in the face of globalisation, pushing home the relevance of the regional press.

The report concludes: “The dominant force of globalisation and the technological revolution are believed to signal a sinister and looming danger for the future of national, regional and local identities, but the UK is experiencing a renaissance of its regions – politically, economically and culturally.”

It cites the ongoing devolution of power in the UK and the influential of regional development agencies as political proof; rising prosperity in the regions and an increased level of homeworking as economic proof; and a growing regional self-confidence, fuelled by the previous factors as cultural proof. Moreover, the report says that businesses believe part of their future lies in the need to form local attachments, citing the trend for national and international companies to sponsor local arts and sporting events, and even to local infrastructure.

Element of trust

Backed by research showing that twice as many people believe their regional and local media to be trustworthy and to understand their concerns and lifestyle as feel the same about national newspapers, and that 60 per cent of businesspeople surveyed source their business services, equipment, property and supplies locally, the report is convincing. Added to this is the fact that 84 per cent of adults read a regional newspaper.

In an attempt to build on the rise in national advertising, the latest piece of research commissioned by NS – The Conversion Study, conducted by Millward Brown – shows that local press can increase brand awareness by nine per cent as part of a multimedia schedule. Four local brands and six national brands were tracked, across daily and regional newspapers in four regions, over several months. The research concludes that whatever the objective of an advertising campaign – converting from ignorance to awareness, or from awareness to conviction – regional press has a role to play.

So how can advertisers play to the strengths of the regional press? First, as with any campaign, a specific audience should be targeted. Then it is a case of tapping into the data available to find the best areas or area to use. Any regional sales house can provide help with this.

Last year, PG Tips – a brand that had never previously used the regional press – ran twice-weekly, full-page, four-colour ads promoting its pyramid tea bag in local evening newspapers in the Tyne-Tees region and East Anglia. Research by Taylor Nelson Sofres showed that the likelihood of consumers buying the product quadrupled during the four-week campaign, while rival brand Tetley suffered a drop in sales in the same areas. Peter Kemp, strategic researcher at Initiative Media, which handles media buying for PG Tips manufacturer Van den Bergh Foods, concludes: “The research highlights the increasing importance of the regional press, often neglected by packaged goods companies.”

Toptani suggests using “supply chain integration” – working with promotions, circulation and new media: “We are using this combination in our work for pasta sauce manufacturer Sacla. London is a key area and the company wanted to attain critical mass in a core area, rather than spreading its budget over the whole country. We took advantage of our infrastructure, using sampling at Evening Standard sales points; our new media expertise, to build a website (sacla.co.uk); database management; and we even produced a special edition of the Evening Standard, which was delivered to the headquarters of Tesco and Sainsbury’s.”

Perhaps, then, it is time more brands considered the potential of regional press advertising and took to heart NS’s campaign slogan: “Think global, act local.”

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