So many weeklies, so little time

There is no doubt that community newspapers are inherently important to the communities they serve, and therefore, equally valuable to local and national advertisers.They not only allow for community involvement but provide advertisers with deep penetration and good frequency, the latter...

There is no doubt that community newspapers are inherently important to the communities they serve, and therefore, equally valuable to local and national advertisers.

They not only allow for community involvement but provide advertisers with deep penetration and good frequency, the latter being an important factor in ad recall and brand awareness.

In fact, PMB ’92, a media and product usage study conducted by PMB: Print Measurement Bureau, found that 62% of Canadian adults had read their community newspaper in the past seven days and were exposed an average of 2.7 times to each issue.

But the sad truth is that unless community newspapers from coast to coast band together as a unified industry and position themselves as partners working with national advertisers, the only potential growth will continue to come from the retail sector.

Regional associations have made a number of positive changes in helping national advertisers participate in community papers.

But in these changing socio-economic times, it isn’t enough.

What do community papers need to do to get their product into the mainstream of national business?

For one thing, they can make life easier for agency planners and buyers.

Any improvement in the way we can plan, sell or buy the 800+ existing community newspapers is more than welcome. These include:

1. Standardize on a national basis.

- One order, one bill. Though this is done regionally by association, it is not done nationally.

- Standardize the ad invoice.

- Standardize unit size and formats. Community newspapers not only have varying formats, but over 60% continue to use Canadian Newspaper Units (cnus) as a unit of measurement instead of Modular Agate Lines (mals).

AdReach, the sales division of the Ontario Community Newspaper Association, has partially addressed the problem by specifying column width in inches and not in picas.

However, the ad is often floated to accommodate one ad size since the space between the columns is often different.

2. Create a central sales and marketing operation.

Agency planners and buyers are in short supply of time and easy-to-use data and information.

Coordinated bookings, bil-lings, formats, unit sizes, reproduction and research would offer new opportunities in national advertising and would go a long way to provide media executives with an incentive to buy community papers.

3. Audit all newspapers.

Though over 60% of papers nationally and 79% of Ontario papers are audited, increasing that number will not only provide credibility to audited papers but to the community newspaper industry in general.

4. Provide research.

The Canadian Community Newspapers Association (ccna) has some audience readership, demographic and market information on many newspapers.

This information needs to be merchandised and quickly and easily accessible. Advertisers want to buy ‘smarter’ with less waste.

5. Provide a unified discount structure (though individual papers would be free to offer rate incentives).

Although most associations offer volume discounts, some, like Ontario, do not.

Discounts across the country and a unified structure would give advertisers a reason to increase their frequency of use and buy into suburban/smaller market vehicles as well.

6. Linkages with dailies.

This would provide the newspaper with increased revenue and advertisers with combination packages encompassing opportunities for greater discounts than if only one vehicle were used.

7. Demonstrate the impact of the medium and its ability to improve brand visibility.

Offer free tests and measure habits before, during and after the test. If papers can show that ads influenced buying decisions, they may be able to divert funds from other media.

8. Merchandise.

Community papers need to be more marketing-oriented and find better ways of improving their profile within the advertising community.

9. Open up to innovative approaches.

Community newspapers must look at value-added programs/ products, improved design and national and cross-media linkages. They must experiment with anything that serves national advertisers better.

Ultimately, the community newspaper industry must view national advertisers more as customers and position themselves as partners in trying to assist them in marketing their products.

It’s time that the reluctance of individual newspapers, long an obstacle for the medium in any attempt to standardize, merchandise or innovate, be sacrificed for the common good.

Carole Anne Desjardins is senior vice-president at Toronto-based Genesis Media.