B.C. papers’ services help woo national advertisers

At one time, community newspapers looked no farther than Main Street for the majority of their advertisers, while big-budget national advertisers found small circulation papers too risky, or too difficult as vehicles for their campaigns.National advertisers had little reason to consider...

At one time, community newspapers looked no farther than Main Street for the majority of their advertisers, while big-budget national advertisers found small circulation papers too risky, or too difficult as vehicles for their campaigns.

National advertisers had little reason to consider community newspapers: they reached fewer people than the dailies, their editorial quality was often inconsistent, and media buyers found it too much work to execute a buy in disparate papers with no standardized formats or rates.

Community papers, for the most part, lacked the sophisticated advertising sales departments needed to cater to the needs of national advertisers.

They did not have the circulation necessary for a broad reach campaign, and most did not have available the demographic and readership information necessary to plan targetted advertising.

National advertisers simply found it easier to confine their newspaper advertising to the dailies.

But, times have changed in the community newspaper business.

All across the country, community newspaper publishers and associations are making efforts to make their product more attractive as a vehicle for national advertising.

In b.c., for example, where community newspapers are perhaps more firmly entrenched than anywhere else in the country, competing chains have organized their operations to offer advertisers many of the advantages of the dailies, including ‘one-stop’ ad booking, readership and demographic data, and, more consistent editorial quality, not to mention the traditional selling point of community papers – greater penetration into suburban and rural markets.

Between them, The MetroValley Newspaper Group and the Vancouver Area Newspaper Network operate 34 community newspapers in the Lower Mainland, ranging in circulation from a couple of thousand to more than 75,000.

David Jenneson, marketing manager for MetroValley, which operates 15 papers on the Lower Mainland, says community papers are generally undervalued as vehicles for advertising.

Jenneson says research shows members of communities served by community papers are at least as likely to try a new product if they see it advertised in a community paper as they would be if they saw it advertised on television.

‘There probably isn’t a more efficient medium for reaching consumers,’ Jenneson says.

He says the success of community newspapers is related to the relatively recent trend of people staying and shopping in their communities, even when those communities lie within bigger cities.

‘Really, what consumers are doing is rewarding those media that satisfy that trend, and penalizing those that don’t,’ Jenneson says.

‘It has nothing to do with MetroValley in particular, that’s just the trend,’ he says.

‘The baby boomers are maturing, and want to spend more time at home. Any community paper is part of that trend, even if they don’t realize it.’

Derrick Chamberlain, director of sales and marketing at VAN Network, which operates 19 papers also on the Lower Mainland (and four in the interior), says cities with fragmented municipal governments tend to have strong community papers.

‘Dailies do a good job of covering the cities as a whole, as well as national and international news,’ Chamberlain says.

‘But, in markets like Vancouver and Toronto, every community has an almost independent administration,’ he says.

‘[People] don’t find out what’s going on in the local school district, local hospital board, or in minor sports unless they turn to their community papers.’

Jenneson says most community papers are missing a good opportunity to attract national advertisers.

‘Communicating these benefits should be of interest to any community paper,’ he says. ‘Everyone is aware of them, on at least some basic level, they’re just not using it.’

Jenneson says the onus is on the newspapers to make the advertisers aware of their growing strength and attractiveness.

According to Jenneson, there is a perception among media buyers that advertising in community papers is a very labor-intensive way of reaching consumers – and, at one time, it was.

‘It really isn’t more work,’ he says.

‘[Media buyers] think they have to call all these different places and book different ads. They think it’s too complicated, whereas with a radio or television station, it’s just one call.

‘The impression is that there are all these different papers out there with different specifications. It’s really not true. Maybe that should be communicated better by the industry as a whole.’

Both MetroValley and VAN Network have central advertising offices that allow advertisers to make just one call to place ads in every paper, or to target their advertising to communities with specific demographics.

The ability to target markets in this way is a direct result of research initiatives on the part of both companies.

This was the fourth year MetroValley hired research company Marktrend to survey its audience.

Positive picture

With these data, MetroValley was able to go to advertisers with not only hard demographic information but a positive picture of the role of community papers in consumer decision-making.

‘The data gave [advertisers] all sorts of reasons to advertise with us,’ Jenneson says.

Chamberlain agrees that readership surveys are an important selling tool for community papers.

He says certain beliefs held by VAN Network about its markets were confirmed by a recent study commissioned from research firm Angus Reid Group.

‘It showed community paper readership is becoming incredibly strong,’ Chamberlain says. ‘We’re getting more time spent per page than the dailies.’

Even armed with readership information, it can still be hard for community papers to break through media buyers’ preconceptions.

‘Some of these people have been in the business for a very long time,’ Jenneson says.

‘They have grown up with dailies, and they find [these research findings] very hard to accept,’ he says. ‘It’s sort of like finding out Santa Claus isn’t real.’

As part of an ongoing strategy, both VAN Network and MetroValley papers publish special sections to further target specific audiences for advertisers.

MetroValley publishes Sei Pao, which has a growing circulation of about 8,000 readers, twice a month in Richmond, b.c. for Chinese readers.

Peninsula Prime, a seniors-oriented lifestyle magazine, is published monthly by the Peace Arch News.

VAN Network targets seniors as well, in both Vancouver and North Vancouver, with Today’s Seniors.

Improve quality

The two newspaper chains have also tried to improve the quality of their publications with ongoing editorial and design improvements.

‘We do everything we think we need to, including focus groups, to talk to the people we really care about -our readers – to find how we can strengthen ourselves in the marketplace,’ Chamberlain says.

Jenneson says each of MetroValley’s papers is kept editorially independent.

‘There’s absolutely no influence,’ he says. ‘That’s what really makes a community paper.

‘I think the quality of writing right now is better than it has been in the past, mainly because there are a lot more trained and talented people available.’

Ultimately, Jenneson says, the community paper, along with the advertising enclosed in it, makes for a nice information package.

‘It arrives twice a week, it’s handy, and [the consumers] love it,’ he says. ‘It’s a single source for them. It’s very hard to beat.’

Some national advertisers agree on that point.

Steve Cosic, advertising control manager for The Bay, a national department store with headquarters in Toronto, says he uses community papers at least once a week, ‘predominantly in the major markets.

‘We obviously use them to get reach where the dailies don’t go,’ Cosic says. ‘We like the community involvement part of it, as well.’

He echoes Jenneson and Chamberlain by saying the dailies suffer from a lack of penetration in many communities because they do not do a good job portraying what is actually happening there.

Sometimes spread thin

Lee Weleschuk, manager of retail circulation and newspapers at retailer Sears Canada, a frequent advertiser on b.c.’s Lower Mainland, agrees dailies are not always the most effective vehicles for newspaper advertising because they are spread thin in some communities.

‘The same thing happens in Toronto,’ Weleschuk says.

‘Even if you buy the dailies, you want to pick up a community newspaper here and there, especially for stores that are not in the downtown core,’ she says.

‘Our stores are situated in suburban communities, and that’s where the community papers are strong. Quite often, it’s a very good fit.

‘Their strength is that their reach is probably four times that of the dailies in some of the outlying areas.

‘The drawback of the community papers is that they are not available daily when there’s a promotion going on.’

Weleschuk says the community papers are useful as distributors of freestanding inserts as well.

That ability, she says, is ‘a major plus.’

‘Historically, store managers on the Vancouver mainland have been very, very positive about all the advertising that takes place in their communities.’