MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ON: REGIONAL PRESS - Newspaper Society initiative is a step in the right direction. Finding the best way to sell to agencies must be a high priority, Alasdair Reid says

They mean business, those persistent people at the Newspaper Society.

They mean business, those persistent people at the Newspaper

Society.



A year ago, they launched a trade press campaign featuring all sorts of

industry luminaries - Rupert Howell, Christine Walker, John Bartle, to

name but three - whose endorsement copy reminded us that even the

smartest cosmopolitan types in the trendiest London advertising agencies

actually come from somewhere that has a local newspaper. Probably a very

highly respected and influential local newspaper come to that.



Then last summer the Newspaper Society began asking the ad industry what

it thought of the medium. And while that consultation process was going

on it initiated a below-the-line campaign to build awareness through the

presentation of case studies.



Now we not only have the analysis of that consultation but a plan of

action. Last week the Newspaper Society unveiled a programme of

initiatives designed to meet the needs of national advertisers - with

the aim of boosting the medium’s share of national advertising

campaigns. These initiatives include commitments that should improve

repro standards, make it easier to plan and buy and make it more

accountable. This year pounds 100,000 will be spent on producing ad

effectiveness research.



Cathy Richards, the regional press director of Zenith Media, says:

’These initiatives are tremendously exciting. It’s fantastic to see the

entire industry getting behind this campaign.’



She adds: ’While anything that makes the regional press easier to plan

and buy has to be positive, I consider the ad effectiveness research to

be the key element. Regional papers have always been at a significant

price premium to nationals, so they need to prove to advertisers that

this premium is justified.’



Some will still need convincing. The challenge now, they say, is

delivering on the promises. Can an industry of fragmented local fiefdoms

really pull together? Is it motivated enough? National display

advertising accounts for only 10 per cent (pounds 247 million) of the

total ad revenue base.



However, there are those who wonder whether the potential for growth is

there at all. The Newspaper Society’s template in all of this is the

pivotal role played by the Radio Advertising Bureau in repositioning

independent radio, once seen as regional and unglamorous, as a sexy

opportunity for national advertisers.



But radio’s accelerated ad revenue momentum was not solely down to the

RAB. It had just as much to do with the fact that the medium was

delivering impressive audience growth as new franchises came on stream.

It was evolving bona fide national opportunities in any case, with the

launch of Classic FM. You could argue that the Newspaper Society has

less impressive material to work with.



One of the faces featured in last year’s campaign was Robert Ray, the

joint managing director of MediaVest. Is he impressed with this latest

initiative? By and large, he is: ’Some of us outside that community have

whinged for years - moaning about everything from repro standards and

administration to the practical difficulties you encounter in buying the

medium. So for the medium to come up with a manifesto based on listening

to customers is excellent.



It needs genuine commitment, support and backing from the publishers

themselves.



If that doesn’t materialise, or if the whole thing gets tangled up with

in-fighting, then the manifesto will be forgotten.



’But the most important factor if they genuinely want to capitalise on

these initiatives is improving the way that the medium is sold to

agencies.



One of the problems regional press has had in the past is the fact that,

by and large, it has always been bought and sold by a small community of

people. They need people who can see beyond that community - I’d

particularly like to see them getting their message across to young

people entering the business on the planning side. Regional newspapers

must always be aware that they are competing with other media.’



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