New PHD has gone cosmic. Presumably bored with awarding itself all
those doctorates in science and philosophy, it has named its two latest
creations Apollo and Space Station. Leading-edge stuff, obviously - this
is rocket science.
Apollo will offer strategic planing services plus database marketing
while Space Station will be a regional press buying specialist. Hang on.
Regional press? That’s not very leading edge, New PHD, is it? Think
regional press and you’re in space station as in bits-falling-off-it Mir
rather than Kubrick’s 2001.
To call it the Cinderella of the media world is to be kind. The ugly
sisters would be a better fit. This is a sector where the usual rules
don’t apply, where namby-pamby London agencies go to get their
comeuppance at the hands of no-nonsense Northern sales reps.
National advertisers who adopt a multi-regional press strategy can find
themselves bumped out of the best ad sites by the local plumbing magnate
who goes to Round Table meetings with the publisher.
So why is New PHD getting involved? First, and obviously, because it
already is. It’s the fourth biggest regional press buyer, with billings
of pounds 12.5 million. Volvo spends significantly in the regions.
Second, there’s a gap in the market in terms of billings and
Nick Horswell, the managing director of New PHD, says: ’There’s more
than pounds 120 million of regional press spend that comes direct from
There are advertisers with pounds 4 or pounds 5 million in regional
budget that haven’t thought about how they can get the most out of their
spend. That sort of advertiser might look at New PHD and think it’s a
bit big for their needs. Having a standalone unit sends them the right
sort of message.
’The sort of client we might appeal to may have a nationwide chain of
local operations and in each case the local manager is told to get on
with it and book things locally. That could lead to a one-dimensional
approach and they may be paying the wrong prices.’
But it’s not just about screwing publishers on price. Jo Stead, head of
regional press at New PHD, will be the Space Station boss. She says it
will be about communications planning. Which is, after all, PHD’s
’It will be about forging meaningful collaborations in ways that go
beyond buying space - things like advertorials, promotions and
competition. The sector is more tuned into these things than people
believe,’ she states.
Sounds good, but are the media owners up for this sort of thing? Yes,
Mike McCormack, the chief executive of the AMRA regional press sales
house, says. None of the cliches are relevant - exciting things have
been happening in the sector. Most regionals are owned by large groups.
And they have London sales representation, so the logistics of a
centralised London buy aren’t a problem.
Understandably, McCormack welcomes the Space Station development. ’Some
London agencies tend to use regional press in a tactical rather a
strategic way so anything that promises something new is welcome. The
national press gets weaker in terms of penetration the further North you
go. In the North-west, the penetration of the Sun is only 8 per
’Agencies are beginning to listen. The regional press has been working
on a higher level for a long while. Consolidation in ownership has done
a lot for quality of product and the colour presses of some groups are
used by national dailies for their regional editions.’
But surely the ’not invented here’ syndrome still applies on the sales
side? Only in a tiny amount of cases, McCormack counters.
Media owners are aware of the big picture. ’Rival publishers are
increasingly co-operating to offer regional packages of titles. The
industry is more focused now. We can bring a lot more to the party.’