However, advertisers and agencies agreed that the regional newspaper industry has its work cut out if it is to increase levels of national advertising, which accounts for less than 10 per cent of regional newspaper advertising revenue.
Bruce Haines, the IPA president, called for greater centralisation of selling points to encourage advertisers to take more interest in the medium.
He suggested regional press could capture greater levels of national advertising by improving editorial, building online advertising revenues and by launching other branded products and services.
Roy Jeans, the Initiative Media managing director for Unilever Europe, argued for the creation of a central sales force across regional newspaper groups to deal with national advertisers.
He said: "Regional press has to make a decision as an industry about whether to grow as a national medium or keep doing what it's doing. The establishment of a sales force engaging national clients would enable its strengths to be sold."
In a broadly positive speech, Bob Wootton, the director of advertising and media affairs at ISBA, outlined that the needs of advertisers are changing, arguing that regional newspapers are dealing with a customer base of advertisers "with less time and inclination to deal with detail and depth". He also argued for the regional newspapers' need to develop "truly customer-focused sales propositions" for advertisers rather than relying on random calling.
Further consolidation in the industry is necessary, according to Tim Bowdler, the recently installed president of the NS and chief executive of Johnston Press.
He said: "Consolidation helps to sustain a vigorous well-resourced and effective regional press. This in turn enables us to maintain a heavy investment in journalism, providing an essential dimension to local news and editorial coverage."