Brands have long used regional press to target consumers at a local level. But the nature of regional press has changed over the past decade as classified and recruitment advertisers have moved their spending online. Are there still opportunities for brands using this media channel?
The press outlets claim they are evolving their offer to suit brands better.
The press outlets claim they are evolving their offer to suit brands better. Last November saw the creation of Local World, one of the most significant regional press groups in recent years. The company was formed by the acquisition of Northcliffe Media from Daily Mail & General Trust and buying Iliffe News & Media.
The group, which is led by former Metro boss Steve Auckland and chaired by ex-Mirror Group chief executive David Montgomery, owns 107 print titles and 63 local websites, giving it considerable reach.
Jeremy Ellis, marketing director at TUI UK (Thomson), welcomes the move, believing brands should work harder to understand the return on investment of local activity compared to national campaigns.
He says: “It’s easy [to write off regional titles and] just go for national publications because you know you’re going to reach a broad audience, but you could get a better return on your money by targeting more specific audiences in local media, potentially at a cheaper rate.”
A better connection to specific communities is another advantage, according to Ellis.
“Big national brands can seem remote to people around the country. As local media has a closer relationship with its audience, people tend to trust it. If you can be a part of that community, and talk in the same way as that publication and audience, then people are more likely to listen to what you have to say and trust you.”
Steps have also been taken to provide advertisers with a more measured approach to readership data for regional titles in the UK. From 1 April, the National Readership Survey will work with the Joint Industry Committee for Regional Media Research to include all regional titles in its sample interviews, along with customised questions for each region – a move that will help to quantify audience reach particularly for national advertisers.
Collaboration between publishers is playing an increasingly important role in helping to overcome the perceived complexity of buying regional media as initiatives like 1Local and The National allow advertisers to buy across multiple titles simultaneously.
The National sees Local World, Trinity Mirror, Johnston Press, Midland News and the Evening Standard collaborate to offer a joined up approach across 16 titles with a total of 1.5 million copies going out daily to 3.5 million readers.
Auckland says: “It took us a while to get people to agree to the concept, which is based on the fact that if you can get a strong national footprint, national advertisers will book into regional press. There’s always been an affinity but it was difficult to book. This is a simple proposition.”
Chris White-Smith, managing director of Newsquest Media, agrees that this collaborative approach is a turning point for the industry.
He says: “More so now than before, there is a real willingness to work together, which allows us to compete with the national press on scale.”
In addition to being able to execute a national strategy in local press, Rachel Baynes, head of brand and communications at Santander Corporate & Commercial Banking, suggests platforms like 1Local also help create better value, both financially and in terms of efficiency.
“It not only gives us good value for money by negotiating a deal that covers 76 regional press titles across the entire country, but from a practical perspective, it also eases the issue of managing a large volume of adverts with differing copy,” she says.
However, she believes it will be difficult “if not impossible” for regional titles to compete with the national press in terms of overall metrics like cost per percentage point of reach. It can help to achieve other more specific objectives like “demonstrating externally that we are present and open for business in every major town in the UK, and giving our local relationship teams a message in press that is directly relevant to them and their customers,” she says.
Ellis explains that Thomson has done this by tweaking messages to reflect local dialects, for example in Newcastle it ran an ad with the message ‘We know not all Geordies want to go to the same shores’.
“We’ve done similar things across the country. In doing so, we’re demonstrating that we have more of an understanding about what life is like in that area and therefore we’re more likely to engage the consumer as we’re talking to them in a way that they recognise in daily life as opposed to coming across with a big corporate message.”
Local media remains important for retailers too, particularly when opening new stores.
John Mewett, marketing director at hardware chain Screwfix, which opened 60 stores last year, says: “Advertising in new areas is key to raising awareness and driving footfall. Advertising is operated on a store-by-store basis, so we plan the activity in with other marketing activity, including PR, broadcast and direct marketing, to ensure that we support the launches in the lead up to their opening. We use local and regional press to signpost customers to these store locations.”
Screwfix also uses local press to support its national campaigns and promotions on a regional level. However, Mewett says that one area that still needs addressing is the “extreme variation” in ad size specifications, “which makes copy splitting a very big job”.
After being slow off the mark to take advantage of digital, regional publishers are now taking big steps to remedy the situation.
Archant launched a free London-focused app in conjunction with mobile city-guide developer MyCityWay last year, which has helped to create new revenue streams and boost audience reach through advertising.
The app uses consumers’ location to provide content, which means it can be used to deliver highly targeted and relevant messages. BP, for example, ran a campaign during London 2012 that targeted visitors in and around the Olympic venues to promote a competition.
Archant London’s digital director Paul Hood points to mobile as a huge growth area. The publisher keeps a close eye on how readers are accessing content via different devices in order to optimise products, and is focused on analytics and direct research to understand audiences.
“We use a range of tools to do that including social media, direct surveys in print and online, and we have invested heavily in detailed on-site analytics. Crucially, this data is fed into a single repository where it can be analysed, which gives us rich insights that inform our content publishing strategy.”
This year, Midland News Association expects 50 per cent of its online visitors to come via mobile. It introduced a responsive website in 2012 which adjusts to fit the screen it is being viewed on in order to strengthen its mobile proposition. Advertising director Louise Burns, says: “Our responsive websites are tailored to give mobile readers a seamless user experience across platforms” while simplifying the buying process across digital devices for advertisers.
There is no doubt that times remain tough for publishers but with new opportunities opening up for brands, marketers may do well to consider regional titles in a fresh light.
Marketing Week (MW): What will you take from your time at Metro that you can apply to Local World?
Steve Auckland (SA): The good thing with Metro and how we built that business is that it’s a simple proposition that is clearly understood by advertisers. It’s about the right place, the right people, product and time so it’s very simple for customers to understand and use. We also need to start showing the response we drive from press. It’s easy to do it in digital, but it’s difficult to quantify in press.
MW: What effect has the Leveson Inquiry had on regional press?
SA: We know that the inquiry has not been helpful from a national paper viewpoint but we’ve got to remember that it has been isolated to two titles, News of the World being the main culprit. If anything it has helped us, as I think people have more trust in local media now than they did before.
MW: What does Trinity Mirror’s 20 per cent stake in Local World mean for the business?
SA: Where we think we can work closely with Trinity Mirror is on things like printing. Forty per cent of Local World’s printing is done on Trinity Mirror’s site. We’re also thinking of [collaborating] on back office areas, so distribution, accounting and where we think there are synergies. What I would call our front of house, our local content and local sales, that’s different.
MW: Do you think publishers are taking advantage of data?
SA: Data is key and I think when a business is going through massive change, particularly in regional press, which has had a tough time over the past four or five years, it’s difficult to tag up everything [online] and dedicate an entire team to work on it. We’re seeing a slight turnaround within regional papers now. We delivered a profit increase of 50 per cent last year, which is not to be sniffed at these days. Margins are better than on national titles but we need to invest more into these areas of data retention and using it for commercial benefit. I don’t think it will make us a fortune in the next 12 months, but give it three years and I think it will pay off.
1,100 number of regional newspapers in UK
33 million the number of people who read regional papers per month
1,600 associated regional websites in the UK
42 million the number of online readers per month
93 per cent of people like companies that involve themselves in the community
84 per cent of people are more likely to buy brands that give something back to the local community
Source: The Newspaper Society