MEDIA: FORUM; Can the Newspaper Society help regional titles?

Can regional newspaper publishers really hope to entice more national advertisers? The Newspaper Society is launching a pounds 2 million campaign to change perceptions of the sector. Can it do what the Radio Advertising Bureau has done for radio? Are individual publishers really committed to the idea? Alasdair Reid reports

Can regional newspaper publishers really hope to entice more national

advertisers? The Newspaper Society is launching a pounds 2 million

campaign to change perceptions of the sector. Can it do what the Radio

Advertising Bureau has done for radio? Are individual publishers really

committed to the idea? Alasdair Reid reports



Regional newspaper owners should have had their own version of the

‘think global, act local’ slogan that was very much in vogue among

smarter advertising circles not so long ago. True, one regional

publisher is fond of reminding advertisers that ‘people live locally,

not nationally’, but it doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?

Perhaps the Newspaper Society will come up with something suitable. Last

week it announced plans for a generic marketing campaign for the

regional press through which it will seek to raise the medium’s profile

and attract a greater share of national adspend (Campaign, 20

September).



It has appointed Optimedia as its strategic partner and is now planning

to appoint an above-the-line creative agency to devise a campaign

targeting major advertisers, agencies and media specialists. The plan

will be to do a similar job for the medium as the Radio Advertising

Bureau has done for radio on a similar yearly ad budget of around pounds

2 million.



Sound familiar? This sort of strategy has been mooted in just about

every other media sector in recent times - but national press, magazines

and outdoor haven’t managed to get very far in their attempts to

construct their own version of the RAB. Will regional newspapers be any

different?



The truth is that the regionals have never really been sure whether

revenue from national advertisers is important or not. National revenue

accounts for around 10 per cent of regional titles’ ad revenue. It

accounts for a lot more than 10 per cent of ad space, though - while

regional advertisers have little choice but to use their local titles,

national advertisers are given discount incentives by sales houses.



So does the Newspaper Society face an uphill struggle? Chris Stanley,

its marketing director, says he is confident that the initiative will

receive the backing of the majority of the membership. And he points out

that his revamped operation has already been functioning in much the

same way as the RAB for several months now - with the added benefit

that, unlike the RAB, it supports sales and marketing efforts at a local

as well as a national level.



He agrees that national revenue is more important to radio than it is to

the regional press - in percentage terms, that is. In absolute terms,

the regionals take far more national revenue than radio by virtue of the

fact that the regional press is such a huge medium. ‘There are few

regionals that can afford to ignore national sales efforts. For

starters, it is worthwhile us helping to safeguard what we already have,

but there is enormous potential for growth. Yes, there are some clients

which are more suited to the medium but there are few that wouldn’t

benefit from using it. Our job is to remind them of our strengths.’



But Neil Hepburn, an associate planning director of BMP DDB, is not at

all convinced that the regional publishers will be solidly behind the

campaign. ‘They may question the economics of it given that publishers

get a better yield from regional advertisers,’ he points out. ‘We’ve all

had experiences of individual publishers threatening to bring down

carefully crafted regional packages. Those at the top of the industry

may believe in this latest initiative, but those further down the chain

may not be so positive.’



Hepburn argues that all of this will be academic unless the regionals

address some more fundamental problems. ‘Buyers use two sources of

information - Jicreg on cover and Brad for rates,’ he says. ‘The problem

is that the two systems are incompatible. For a big campaign, you might

put together a list of 2,000 candidate titles. It might take three weeks

of compiling the data before you can do the computer runs that will

whittle that list down. If the two systems were compatible it could all

be done very quickly and agencies would be far more likely to use the

medium. Yes, regionals do have an image and perception problem, but I

feel they must look at these basic technical issues.’



Justin Sampson, director of operations at the RAB, says that the

organisation is always flattered when other media set out to replicate

its success. But he argues that regional newspapers face very different

market conditions from the ones that faced radio when the RAB launched

in 1992. ‘The truth is that we had a great product to market,’ he points

out. ‘The medium was already moving towards being seen as one with a

critical mass - especially with the launch of national stations and the

advent of Rajar research. Perceptions were lagging behind the reality

and it was our job to change that.’



Can the regional press learn anything from the RAB’s success? ‘We

approached it in classic marketing frame of mind - as if we were the

marketing team of a soap powder. We employed agencies that understood

the product and its customers. Importantly, we listened very carefully

to what our customers had to say and have tried to respond to their

demands,’ Sampson says. ‘But it is vitally important to have the

marketing function autonomous from the sales efforts of individual

media owners. I’m not at all sure that regional publishers will allow

that.’



Steve Goodman, the director of press at the Media Business, hopes to be

surprised by the new campaign, but he confesses that his experience of

the regionals’ past efforts doesn’t make him hugely optimistic. ‘My

knowledge of the regional press is patchy,’ he admits. ‘They could do a

lot in making national press planners and buyers more familiar with the

products and, in particular, the ones that might be appropriate

environments for the messages our clients are trying to convey about

their brands.



‘But it’s not just down to perception or even how difficult it is to

plan and buy a campaign in regional titles. To achieve national cover

using regionals you have to use an awful lot of them and the cost

doesn’t look very clever. Yes, there are discounts to be had, but the

regionals need to put together packages where the national cost per

thousand rivals that of the nationals. I hate to be negative, but my

feeling is that they should focus on what they are best at rather than

on one of their weaknesses.’



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