Quebec papers learn the hard way

A few years ago, planning a media buy using community newspapers in the province of Quebec was a real challenge, almost an act of wizardry.There was nothing, a total void, no readily available information. And if there was any, it was...

A few years ago, planning a media buy using community newspapers in the province of Quebec was a real challenge, almost an act of wizardry.

There was nothing, a total void, no readily available information. And if there was any, it was not verified.

Faced with having to plan a media recommendation for the chief electoral officer of Quebec, we had to start somewhere, so we tried to convince community newspapers that they had to get organized.

Publications

We managed to obtain part of the information we required from the publications themselves and started compiling the limited data we had.

The purpose of this effort was to achieve equal penetration of all provincial electoral divisions. Dailies were our main vehicles, but in some regions, we had to have the additional regional support provided by community newspapers.

The objective was to set a rule for selecting community newspapers that could not be challenged and that would be fair for all involved.

Community newspapers had to learn the hard way. ‘You were not selected in our media recommendation because we did not have sufficient and reliable information on your publication,’ we would tell them.

It was painful for some, but we did manage to get a reaction.

Passing them by

Slowly but surely, community newspapers realized there was a lot of money passing them by. We had started a war and they would have to arm themselves for the next battle.

We established a general rule for selecting publications.

First, we would adjust the circulation figures for all the publications, depending on the circulation verification program to which they subscribed.

The circulation figures of newspapers using the Audit Bureau of Circulations (abc) program would not be indexed downward, but for other publications, we would penalize their circulation by 40%. They had the burden of proof.

After leveling the circulation of the publications penetrating an electoral division, we would then make a selection as follows: first, the abc publication, then those verified using the Canadian Circulations Audit Board (ccab) and the Office de la distribution certifiee (odc) and finally, those whose circulation was sworn.

Balanced lineage

If two publications were tied, we would look at some copies and select the one that had balanced editorial/advertising lineage. We would also look at their publishing history, circulation fluctuations, and so on.

The publications protested again when they realized that we could only take into account the circulation within the geographical boundary of the division.

Some very good publications were not chosen because they covered too large an area and were overlapping more than one division.

We do not think that we were the only ones who triggered their reaction, but it finally arrived in 1988 with the beginning of an answer: a survey called Pro-gramme d’evaluation de lecture des hebdomadaires, or the Community Newspaper Readership Certification Program.

Sound direction

At first, we argued about how the survey was conducted, but there was a sound direction and a willingness to supply advertisers with accurate information on the medium.

The survey was developed especially for the 153 members of the odc and is carried out by Montreal-based market research firm crop.

In 1992, 82 community newspapers participated in this study and nearly 14,600 interviews were conducted.

It gives advertising companies and advertisers exhaustive information on readership and measures some products and spending habits (planned purchase of cars, electronic equipment, vacations and so on).

It provides much-needed information about regional readership and it allows the media planner to better select publications in a given market.

In making this first effort to provide advertisers with more accurate information, community newspapers have helped advertisers to better understand what kind of regional coverage they provide.

Alas, the war is not over: Quebec community newspapers now need to build an active plan to be included in national media buys.

The province of Quebec accounts for 25% of all Canadian retail sales, with the Montreal and Quebec City markets accounting for 15%. That leaves 10% for the rest of the province.

As for population, the province accounts for 25% of all Canadian adults, with Montreal and Quebec City accounting for 17%.

$24-billion market

Thus, they represent a market worth approximately $24 billion in retail sales, with 1,735,000 adults.

If we consider that most Quebec regional markets have a retail sales market rating index below 100, this could be somewhat complicated.

One might be surprised that we consider community newspapers as regional vehicles.

They tend to have relatively lower market penetration when they are in the primary market of a daily and competition in these markets could be fierce.

Community newspapers in the province of Quebec have succeeded in recent years in positioning themselves as a reliable and effective media vehicle.

We now know that they are serious business partners. All they need to do now is prove that using them can be a worthwhile business investment.

Marie Lamontagne is media director at the Quebec City office of Cossette Communication-Marketing.