Specific targeting is a problem for `hebdos’

It might be said that there are no bad media, nor wrong media choices, but only misused media.This thought comes to mind when thinking about community newspapers, or 'hebdos' as they are known in Quebec.Indeed, on paper, no single media family...

It might be said that there are no bad media, nor wrong media choices, but only misused media.

This thought comes to mind when thinking about community newspapers, or ‘hebdos’ as they are known in Quebec.

Indeed, on paper, no single media family offers such complete coverage of households across the province. This is because most are distributed free, on a door-to-door basis, and most claim 100% market coverage.

On that basis, the hebdos have expected to receive greater advertiser support.

But the issue of coverage overshadows a number of issues which influence our business decisions whether to use them as part of our media strategies.

The strength of hebdos lies in their ability to target on a geographical basis.

However, this form of targeting is used less and less frequently by national advertisers, whose media budgets have been eroded and who are more concerned with reaching consumers based on demographic or consumption criteria.

Hebdos are, by their very nature, not able to target new car buyers or households using butter or even men 18-49 years old.

Major limitation

This is a major limitation in a changing media scene, and we can only predict that this limitation will become more serious as the advertising industry moves towards more segmented media strategies.

Total geographical coverage will become less important over time.

This limitation applies also to daily newspapers and may be one of the reasons why that industry has also experienced challenges in attracting national advertisers.

Geographical coverage will remain more important for retail advertisers than for national advertisers.

Editorial coverage

We need to understand that this local market strength is not only related to distribution, but also to editorial coverage.

Hebdos are, in many communities, the only local medium, and have established a long-standing tradition of providing truly local news related to their local markets.

Unfortunately, this editorial coverage is not of equal standard from paper to paper and this fact has contributed to the sometimes questionable reputation of hebdo editorial quality.

National advertisers are reluctant to convey their advertising messages in less than quality editorial environments.

The subject of environment applies also to the advertising environment of hebdos, which obviously is dominated by ‘pub-set’ local advertising, which by its very nature does not answer to the same standards required of national advertising.

Different standard also apply to circulation and readership audits, which are the only guarantees on which a national advertiser can rely.

These independent audits, whether it is Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), Canadian Circulations Audit Board (CCAB) or largely in Quebec, Office de la distribution certifiee (ODC) are essential to certify the circulation, as we will not accept sworn statements from publishers. There have been too many instances of questionable practices.

TheProgramme d’evaluation de lecture des hebdomadaires readership study, conducted by Montreal-based polling firm crop, is a major step in the right direction, by providing advertisers with a more meaningful gauge of impact.

Participating hebdos have provided valuable insights on the actual readership of their papers.

This information is useful in determining the potential impact of advertising campaigns, much in the same way as is done for other media.

The final issue that hebdos will need to address is that of pricing.

Cost is indeed a major limitation. First are the obvious differences that prevail between national and local rates.

While they may have solid justification for these differences, the fact remains that a national advertiser will pay substantially more than a similar local advertiser.

While it can be understood that hebdos in general consider national business as a bonus and expect governments to pay top rates, this situation has led national advertisers to consider that hebdos are generally not good value for the money, and best left to local retailers to handle as part of co-op programs.

The second issue related to cost is the total budget required for a complete national hebdo advertising program.

While the cost of space in an individual paper may seem reasonable enough, covering all markets with hebdos requires substantially more money than for daily newspapers.

In fact, the cost of a single page, black and white ad in all hebdos could pay for a good one-week tv campaign or a radio or magazine campaign.

So this brings us back to our starting point.

There are no wrong media, only misused media.

The strength of hebdos and community newspapers lies in their ability to provided concentrated local market impact.

When used to that effect, advertisers capitalize on their greatest strength.

The hebdo industry has devoted substantial resources to demonstrate their value and their local market power.

We can only encourage them to continue in that direction.

Pierre Arthur is vice-president and media director at Montreal-based advertising agency BCP Strategie Creativite.