Media Forum: Will Creative Juice boost regional press?

Are the Creative Juice awards helping to attract more brand advertisers to the regional press, Alasdair Reid asks. It's a simple equation, apparently: if they can enter their work in awards, creatives will do the business for you; if not, the odds are, they probably won't really be bothered. In the best of all possible worlds, creatives would approach each and every brief with exactly the same determination to give of their best. But as this is not the best of all possible worlds, less fashionable sectors such as regional press need awards ceremonies such as Creative Juice to help tickle the creative community's fancy.

A little bit of flattery can go a long way, after all.

Just how far, though, is moot. The joint winners of the third Creative Juice awards, Craig Hunt and James Humphreys, a creative team at J. Walter Thompson, and Natalie Ranger and Eloise Smith of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, for their work on BT Homeplan, were announced last week. The campaigns were exceptional.

But perhaps even more importantly, they came through a very tough field: the judges were generous in their praise both of the quantity and the quality of this year's entries.

Which is nice. But are the awards meeting their broader aim - which is to increase the number of national brand advertisers using the medium and therefore increase the medium's share of UK adspend? The notion obviously is that if you show people what's possible, you'll get more advertisers willing to give it a go; and better-quality work will help make the medium more sexy.

Analogies are often drawn between the way that the Aerial Awards helped to make radio a more credible advertising medium. Can it be that simple, though? After all, perceptions are difficult to change and attracting more revenue from sophisticated national brand advertisers is an even harder trick to pull off.

Al Young, the creative director of St Luke's and chairman of the Creative Juice jury, defends the Aerial Awards comparison. He states: "Before they came along, I really did feel that the advertising tended to compromise the way people experienced the radio medium - it was so heavily polluted. Creative awards really made a difference. The regional press is faced with the same problem."

He believes they are doing a fine job - and he goes so far as to argue they are making people realise that what have been seen as the medium's weaknesses are, in fact, strengths. He explains: "Perhaps agencies don't recognise the fact that regionals talk about things that are closer to home. Yes, they may not be sophisticated in style or content but you don't read local papers for great journalism. Sometimes you really do want to read about a pensioner having to wait three hours for a bus: it's neither better nor worse than other media but just another part of your repertoire."

Danny Brooke-Taylor, the creative director of BDH\TBWA, agrees. "The standard of entries was really good and that has to be encouraging," he says. But is it likely to result in more national brand advertisers considering the medium? "I don't think we'll see an immediate surge," he states. But he does feel that at least people are asking the right sorts of questions now. The awards are not just stimulating better individual ads and campaigns but also a broader form of creative thinking where the medium is concerned.

"If you are thinking about using the medium in the right sort of way, you are half-way to using it more," he argues.

John Prentice, the media director of PHD's regional media division, Space Station, says the Creative Juice awards are just one of a number helping to improve the status of the medium. He states: "The perception problem as regards regional press is far more marked on the agency side. Advertisers tend not to have a negative view. It's far more of an agency thing. That's probably because most agency people live in London and London's regional press is all about free weeklies, which are often cluttered products. There isn't the community feeling that you get elsewhere in the country, where you find high-quality newspapers serving those communities."

Mark Rix, the deputy managing director of the Manchester Evening News, thinks it's an important step forward and one that doesn't go unnoticed "Creative Juice is a great initiative. It's a highly innovative way of engaging with the UK's creative talent and obviously it's not the only factor (in developing the medium) but if you look at what's happening generally with the regional press and the fact Unilever, for instance, is using it this year, then Creative Juice can only help, can't it? If we are engaging the attention of ad agencies then we must be going in the right direction."

- "Lots of entrants really had given a lot of thought to the context in which the ads would run. Sometimes that involves parodying the sort of content you would expect in a local newspaper but generally it is about understanding how people experience the medium." - Al Young creative director, St Luke's

- "If I want to know about hostages in Iraq, I won't go to the Barnsley Bugle, but if I want the media equivalent of a natter over tea and biccies then I might. From an advertising point of view, it's about talking to the right people in the right way at the right time in the right place." - Danny Brooke-Taylor creative director, BDH\TBWA

"Creative Juice encourages agency creatives to think again and it also helps when media agencies want to get involved with the creative agencies where regional press is concerned. It ensures that creatives are encouraged to produce the best work that they can." - John Prentice media director, Space Station

- "It means a lot, sitting here in Manchester, knowing we as a medium can engage the attention of the industry in this way. It's now up to the Newspaper Society and media owners to continue taking this sort of work out to show agencies and advertisers what can be done." - Mark Rix deputy MD, Manchester Evening News.

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