Media: Perspective - Regional press is still fighting for its sliceof the ad cake

There are times when the regional press resembles that goofy bloke in the latest execrable Ford Fiesta commercial, the one where he's left in the aisle because the car honks its horn and distracts the bride. It always seems in danger of being left at the altar for a rival that might not make any sense but creates a loud noise.

There's no doubting that regional press is a difficult sell to many agencies, especially those representing national advertisers in London. It's less glamorous than TV, than national press and, God forbid, even than outdoor.

And then there's the spectre of online - which has re-invented classified advertising through models such as those created by craigslist.org.

Associated Newspapers' decision to hive off Northcliffe Newspapers has also added to the doom-mongers' evidence against regional press. And yet there is hope. Ad revenues continue to grow (5.8 per cent over 2004) and key players in the industry realise they have to be more compelling in selling their message.

Witness this week's news. The trade body The Newspaper Society hires St Luke's to market the medium, and then Chris White-Smith, the former Telegraph sales director, joins Newsquest as the managing director of its sales operation. White-Smith's goal ("to grow revenues and get Newsquest up the agenda") could apply to regional press as a whole. And, if anyone has the right combination of charm and intelligence to succeed, it is probably him. His task is formidable, though, for reasons outside his control.

For a start, a medium such as TV has an inbuilt advantage because of the willingness of ad agencies to create 30-second TV spots. Regional press doesn't have this goodwill. It's also at a disadvantage because of the pressures on media agencies to make higher margins.

Regional press has been lambasted for not simplifying the buying process by reducing the number of sales points. Yet few level this complaint at online, despite the time-intensive and complex nature of buying digital space. Cynics would argue that this is because agencies can make a nice margin of between 8 per cent and 10 per cent out of the confusion, appreciably higher than in regional press buying.

In a fair world, and if media-neutral planning really existed, regional press would have a decent crack of the whip, especially as it's beginning to show it can target young audiences through in-depth sports and entertainment coverage. However, the rise of online could still be crippling and there is an emerging threat from major broadcasters such as ITV, which is looking to marry content from acquisitions such as Friends Reunited with regional broadcast coverage.

But at least regional press is fighting for its share rather than crying on the best man's shoulder.