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Monday, 9 November 2009

The bell tolls for the regional media

Hyper local media buying agencyLocal and regional papers have been getting some bad press lately. If you believe what the marketing media tells you, ad spends are down, journalist numbers are falling and circulations are at rock bottom. So is there a light at the end of the tunnel for the great British institution that is the local paper? Jason Mawer, managing director of hyper-local agency Oxbury Media, thinks the answer is no – unless they can get back to their roots.

I have one serious issue with the modern regional or local newspaper – it’s not really that local at all. Most of them simply regurgitate national content, occasionally with a local angle tacked on at the end. As a result, advertisers have lost faith that the readers are really reading; particularly on free circulation titles. This creates a vicious circle; less advertising money means less profit, which means fewer journalists and more stories that are produced cheaply using borrowed sources.

Even as this is happening in the local and regional media, there is also a cash crisis occurring across all media formats. As a result, advertising in the nationals becomes cheaper and those Google AdWords start looking like great value.

However, very few local and regional paper have cashed in on the boom in online advertising spend. This is because they have the same problem online – there is very little exclusive content on their Web sites and, as a result, very little reason to spend your valuable online minutes visiting them.

The bottom line is that the local media isn’t sufficiently narrowcast. People are turning to other media sources, both online and offline, to find out what they want to know about their areas. If the local newspaper doesn’t carry sports results for the pub football league, information from local councillors and local coroner’s news, there is bound to be a Blog, village magazine or web site somewhere that does. If you want to find out what’s going on at your local pub, the local paper may well not tell you. will though, as will the pub’s Facebook page in all likelihood.

This ultra local sourcing of information is reinforced by the hyper local newshounds who have decided to generate their own content, for their immediate area. "No-one was doing online news on a daily basis for my area at all," said Ross Hawkes, the creator of The Lichfield Blog. "One local paper closed and the other updates only once a week when it is out."

There have been a number of initiatives recently intended to address problems in regional news reporting, by taking advantage of the upsurge in amateur hyper local journalists. The Guardian is launching a service which plans to use local Bloggers to report back on important events in the area. It plans to help cover community news, and report on local developments. The project will emphasise local political decision-making, and is scheduled to go live next year.

However, the drawback is that Bloggers aren’t trained journalists. They lack the credibility of a trained hack and they may not offer the whole story. That said I’m in favour of anything that provides the genuine news content that’s missing at present.

The Press Association has also launched an initiative, initially planned as a trial project in Merseyside, which will ultimately result in a dedicated portal from which any news outlet can source material free of charge. Again, this is a brilliant plan, but I wonder if it isn’t simply trying to harness the power of something that already exists below the radar of the London based media circuit?

There is another level of locality, as The Lichfield Blog and countless others like it prove. There is the hyper local media, the tier two lifestyle magazines, village magazines and myriad organically created online and offline news outlets, set up by the people for the people. The mainstream media know about this and that’s why they are putting money into supporting hyper local content. Everyone from the BBC to Trinity Mirror Publishing have plans afoot to make their content more specific to the user; more narrowcast.

It’s my belief that this media is the answer. We should invest in the hyper local space and make it bigger, helping create more independent local media channels, which may be under one roof or several. Crucially though, these outlets will provide the information you really want to know about your area, your postcode or even your street.

Ironically, the hyper local press presents a huge opportunity to the national brands that have shied away from advertising in the local and regional media. Those businesses who genuinely want to communicate with their customers at post-code level now have a way of doing so. The key is to keep that communication genuine. Oxbury Media brokers advertising between its clients and a network of 10,000 titles with a reach of over ten million readers. When a client specifies that they want to reach a particular postcode or set of postcodes, we suggest that they ensure that their message is genuinely local. If you are a supermarket, the message shouldn’t be from your brand, but from the outlet on the local high street.

We’ve seen businesses doing this with vouchers and discount coupons recently and others advertising only those services available within a ten minute drive. For the Co-Op, we created a report, showing which services were offered at each of their locations and how they could match those services up with specific advertising in hyper local media. It makes absolute sense for a brand that owns everything from food outlets to funeral packages to not advertise a service in an area where it isn’t offered. Similarly, we’ve seen national chemists advertising rapeseed allergies only in the areas where rapeseed is grown. By keeping it local their advertising reinforces the editorial message of the magazine, rather than undermining it. And, crucially, it gets results, which means the advertiser retains faith in the reader.

Hyper local advertising is also very effective for franchise businesses, where the individual franchisee buys only the postcodes they cover. No other media allows this level of targeting. Even if you advertise in the Yellow Pages, you are inevitably doing so on behalf of the next franchise along, geographically speaking, as well as yourself. Hyper local media means that every penny is spent on reaching your own potential customers.

As you can see, I’m a passionate advocate of the hyper local media outlet. A visit to my office tells you this; there are hundreds of titles stacked around the room, rubbing shoulders with national newspapers and marketing titles. So where does this leave the local and regional press in terms of survival?

The bottom line is that I don’t think it needs to survive. The emergence of the hyper local media means it’s not as important as it used to be. I would like it to survive and prosper. I would like it to get back its local focus and bring back the advertisers. But I don’t feel entirely confident that it will. It’s a great British institution, but it’s an endangered one that needs to up its game.

Ends: 1199 words

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For further information contact: Jason Mawer,
Oxbury Media Ltd, East Barn, Fairclough Hall Farm, Weston, Hertfordshire
Telephone: +44 (0) 1462 790517

Press enquiries: Richard Stone
Stone Junction, 33 Kirkdale, Sydenham, London, SE26 4PN
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 8699 7743
Fax: +44 (0) 20 8699 7743

Ref: OXB008/11/09

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