Lack of solid research a stumbling block

At harrison Young Pesonen & Newell, we use community newspapers for those clients in markets which are difficult to reach via daily newspapers or where the community newspaper is, in fact, superior to the daily.However, there are several issues which the...

At harrison Young Pesonen & Newell, we use community newspapers for those clients in markets which are difficult to reach via daily newspapers or where the community newspaper is, in fact, superior to the daily.

However, there are several issues which the community newspaper industry must address in order to compete on an equal basis in the majority of markets.

Circulation audit

Our primary concern is unverified circulation claims. Lack of proven circulation is easily rectified by the papers themselves, with audit bureau membership.

According to the Matthews Media Directory (January 1992), there are 1,149 community newspapers across Canada. Of these, only 167 are Canadian Circulations Audit Board (ccab) or Audit Bureau of Circulations (abc) members.

In the current climate of ever-increasing skepticism about the efficacy of advertising, it is difficult to sell a media plan which is not based on solid research.

Advertisers require assurance that each dollar spent is in fact hitting its mark.

The foundation of media planning and buying is built on numbers. Evaluation of any medium must begin here as we are in the business of delivering those numbers in the form of target audiences.

While numbers are not the sole determining factor in any media decision, they are the necessary precursor of an informed analysis.

Readership data

In addition to lack of circulation data, the majority of weeklies have no distinctive readership information.

Demographic profiles of any given medium’s audience are generally quite readily supplied by the medium itself.

This information is vital in terms of validating media recommendations.

Furthermore, it would be useful to compare how these community profiles differ with urban groups, which might suggest the rationale to include weeklies on a plan.

Major vs. minor market coverage

Most national advertisers seek to concentrate their advertising effort in markets with populations of 100,000 or more, which account for the bulk of their business.

In contrast, community newspapers are most effective in reaching smaller, isolated and/or rural markets where coverage of the major daily tends to be weaker.

Generally speaking, these areas have populations under 30,000.

In terms of per capita retail sales, 100,000+ markets accounted for 71% of all spending in 1992; whereas, markets under 30,000 in population represented a mere 5% (Financial Post Canadian Markets 1992).

However, this 5% translates into 1.1 billion retail dollars spent. In essence, the inherent major market skew of the daily newspapers provides the weeklies with a window of opportunity.

Community papers would profit by investing in data which substantiate business-building possibilities in smaller markets.

Unique selling

proposition

Given that we are all part of the global village, community newspapers must distinguish themselves in terms of what they can bring to the media mix.

In the majority of urban markets, communities, as such, have ceased to exist. It is also debatable to what extent the reality of community living has survived outside of urban centres.

Weeklies must demonstrate what, if any, distinct community-related needs they can or do fulfill. Is the death of the community an urban delusion?

While the fate of communities is not dependent upon community newspapers, recent trends (cocooning, the aging of the population, concern about the environment) suggest we may be moving into an era where a sense of community plays a larger part in daily life.

Should this prove the case, weeklies could assume a greater role in the dissemination of pertinent local information and perhaps take a leadership position in the organization of new urban communities.

The task at hand is to re-establish their credibility and relevance in the light of current developments within the media industry and society itself.

Measurable standards of advertising efficacy exist, and any medium which ignores the importance of these standards is unlikely to prosper.

As media managers, we are stewards of our clients’ funds and therefore must demand accountability from the media we recommend, just as we ourselves are accountable.

Regina Kulikowski is account planner at Toronto-based Harrison Young Pesonen & Newell.