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Why regional media isn't dead!

One of my account managers came back from a PR planning meeting and told me the client had declared that local and regional papers were “pointless”.

The client was a company with a UK footprint and the purpose of this particular meeting was to increase share of voice at a local level.

Despite this, one of the client’s representatives argued that nobody reads locals anymore and that they were passé because “everybody is online now”.

Sadly, it’s not the first meeting where this has been the client’s perception and it probably won’t be the last.

But it’s a short-sighted view and I think it’s our responsibility as public relations professionals to educate clients on the huge value of these media outlets or they’ll miss out on golden opportunities.

A challenging market

I understand why these perceptions exist.

Let’s face it, locals and regionals have had an especially turbulent couple of decades and they continue to face challenges today.

Since 2005 more than 270 titles have disappeared completely for a number of reasons, from dwindling sales to plummeting advertising revenues, amid a period of considerable digital disruption.

Even those that survived have had to make some big decisions and structural changes, such as establishing centralised subbing pools or appointing one editor across multiple titles, in a bid to reduce their headcount and make savings.

Many a skilled journalist has found themselves out of work and many of those who remained feared changes of this magnitude would mean they were seen as ‘less local’.

Adapting to change

However, it’s important for our clients to remember that the demise of the print-centric local and regional newspaper model doesn’t make them yesterday’s news.

Today they have embraced the new ways of working and have adapted their models accordingly.

Most print titles now have an online equivalent giving readers the option of how they want to access news. We’re also seeing new, exclusively-online titles continuing to spring up.

Titles that once delivered weekly news have now ramped up the frequency of their reports, delivering up-to-the-minute updates via their websites. They’ve also embraced social media meaning they now have not one, but multiple outlets.

Ofcom stats released in the summer revealed that social media is overtaking traditional channels among teens with Instagram, TikTok and YouTube their top three news sources. If you look at TikTok alone, 16-24 year-olds account for half of its user base for news.

By extending and optimising their reach, and sliding into these strong social platforms, local and regional media are now connecting with a much more diverse audience. For us, that makes them more valuable than ever.

Trust is everything

There’s an even bigger reason to make sure that local and regional media is high on our agenda – it is trusted.

At the end of last year the Public Interest News Foundation commissioned a survey which showed people were more likely to trust news produced locally. This was reinforced by a Newsworks/OnePoll survey in January showing more than four in five people trust news from local newspapers and websites.

This is especially apparent in times of crisis – like the pandemic for example – when the public needs access to facts. The exponential rise in online content can make it difficult to pinpoint credible sources and readers will gravitate towards media outlets they see as being reliable and accountable.

For our clients at that time, local and regional press was crucial for getting the right message to the right audience. With a network of regional offices and a team tasked with knowing their local communities inside out, we were able to reach who we needed to through print and online media as well as the airwaves, working with partners like Markettiers to amplify our messaging through local broadcast channels.

The cornerstone of our profession

Every thriving brand is built on trust and every good CEO knows that it heavily impacts their bottom line.

Establishing trust is also critical to the practice of PR, woven into every part of our process. We build trust with our clients. We tell their story with transparency and credibility, in turn building trust with the journalist and ultimately their audiences.

I’ve worked with countless companies who invest significant sums of money in market research and perceptions surveys, and assessing their trust ratings is always top of the agenda.

Why, then, would you ever build a PR strategy that doesn’t include the media outlets that are proven to be the most trusted of all?

A digital world of opportunity

As our news outlets have pivoted and evolved, so too has our profession, and today’s PR landscape looks markedly different.

Gone are the days of trawling through piles of newspapers with newsprint-covered hands and a pair of scissors, thankfully now replaced by media monitoring and social listening tools.

Our content output has changed, tailored for the plethora of platforms now at our disposal – and the real power of these platforms is that they have catapulted local and regional press onto the global stage. We can issue regional news stories that bounce across continents overnight, landing in outlets from the US to Australia.

The skillsets within integrated agencies have expanded considerably, with specialists in everything from SEO, PPC and digital marketing to videography, graphic design and more.

These are exciting times for the industry - the digital world is our oyster.

Written by Laurna Woods, Group CEO at tigerbond.

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