Databases will provide hard facts

In a bid to make member newspapers more attractive to national advertisers, community newspaper associations in the Prairies are forging ahead with databases to let media planners more easily plan and execute their media buys.Media planners have long complained that buying...

In a bid to make member newspapers more attractive to national advertisers, community newspaper associations in the Prairies are forging ahead with databases to let media planners more easily plan and execute their media buys.

Media planners have long complained that buying community newspapers for a national campaign is time-consuming and hard to evaluate.

Among other things, they say planning a national buy can involve literally dozens of calls, and that most community newspapers are unable to provide demographic and product consumption data that would allow an advertiser to better target specific groups of consumers.

While there is no doubt community newspapers are making serious efforts to improve the situation – most associations now offer a one-order, one-invoice system, for example – media planning databases will help make them that much more attractive as a national advertising vehicle.

Gerald Rekve, executive director of the Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association, says the databases to be employed by his association, the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association and the Manitoba Community Newspapers Association will allow advertisers and their agencies to buy community newspaper markets more selectively, in much the same way they are able to buy advertising in dailies.

To draw an analogy, Rekve says the databases will be to community newspapers in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba what NADbank is to daily newspapers across the country.

Like NADbank, a media planning aid published annually by the Newspaper Marketing Bureau, the community newspaper databases contain demographic and consumer spending information which can be linked to the audited circulation areas of member papers.

Howard Bennett, president of the Manitoba assoication and publisher of The Carman Valley Leader, a community newspaper in Carman, a town 40 miles southwest of Winnipeg, says the databases will put the Prairie papers in a much better position to attract advertisers – national, retail and local.

‘If we weren’t credible before, we certainly will be now,’ Bennett says.

‘I don’t think people are aware of the strides and improvements community newspapers have made in the past few years, both in the quality of the product, and in the marketing,’ he says.

Rekve agrees the databases will go a long way in convincing advertisers and their agencies that community newspapers want their business and are prepared to do the legwork necessary to get it.

‘Instead of agencies or customers saying they don’t know what to buy in Saskatchewan, we can provide that information to them as quick as a phone call or a fax,’ Rekve says.

‘We are taking a lot of the guesswork out of placing ads in Saskatchewan,’ he says. ‘You can now base your media buy on factual data.’

The Saskatchewan and Manitoba databases employ consumer spending and demographic information from Statistics Canada, while Alberta’s database gets its demographic information from StatsCan, and its consumer spending information from Compusearch Micromarketing Data & Systems.

Duane Beazer, marketing co-ordinator at the Alberta community newspaper association, the first of the three associations to take the plunge, says the system allows advertisers to target consumers using about 900 consumer spending categories and a further 600 demographic fields, such as occupation, income, age, sex and mother tongue.

Once a target group has been determined, Beazer can instruct the database to search for newspapers whose circulation areas best match that group.

If, for example, an advertiser wants to reach women 35-39 years of age, married, with a university education, who spends more than the provincial average on home exercise equipment, the database can be instructed to isolate member newspapers that will reach that group.

Once a set of newspapers has been isolated, that list can be imported to a map graphics program that allows the advertiser to see, overlaid on a map of the province, the circulation areas of each of the chosen papers.

Beazer says the idea is not to sell advertising in all of the Alberta association’s papers, but to sell advertising in the right papers to accomplish the client’s objectives.

‘It would be nice if an advertiser could come to me and say, `I want to advertise in weekly newspapers in Alberta, there are 104 newspapers, here are 104 ads,’ Beazer says. ‘Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen.’

‘If I can help them pick out 15 areas, or 10 areas, or even five areas, that will help them get a better return on their advertising dollar, then we have a better chance of them coming back, because they can actually reach the people who are going to spend money on their product,’ he says.

Beazer says he has already used the database to help an Edmonton marketer of investment products isolate four newspapers whose circulation areas had a higher than average proportion of households with an income of more than $200,000.

The database also allows media buyers to calculate, in a matter of seconds, the cost of advertising in one or all of the selected newspapers, based on the size of the ads required.

Beazer says the database is full of interesting consumer spending statistics that prove community newspapers reach a desirable audience that may be underserved by daily newspapers, which tend to have higher penetration in urban markets.

People in the circulation areas of about 30 community newspapers in Alberta, for example, spend more than double the provincial average on snowmobiles – and many of those newspapers are in communities with fewer than 1,000 people.

In time, Beazer says he would like to put the system on-line, so media buyers and community newspaper sales staff can ‘query’ the database whenever they need to. For now, however, calls will have to go through him.

In the meantime, the Alberta community newspaper association is concentrating its efforts on planning a series of receptions to be held later this fall in Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton, and next spring in Vancouver and Winnipeg.

The idea is to show agencies and clients just what the system is capable of doing and, with any luck, walk away with some advertising business.

Beazer has already started talking informally about the database with media directors in Edmonton and Toronto and says the reception to date has been ‘overwhelming.’

Rekve says, he, too, has been testing the waters with agencies in Saskatchewan and Toronto, and says the response has been ‘extremely overwhelming.

‘One fellow wanted to go online already,’ Rekve says.

‘But, we don’t have the system up and running quite yet,’ he says, estimating his database will be ready to roll in November.

Manitoba’s database should be ready about the same time.

‘I have been into a lot of agencies before, and, usually the response is `You are just another medium,’ ‘ Rekve says.

‘With this, I find they are extremely interested because we are now a marketing arm for their agency,’ he says.

‘We will give them an unbiased look at Saskatchewan weeklies and what they can provide. We’re not taking away from what the dailies can provide, or what other media can provide.

‘We would just like to show that, for a long time, the weeklies have been a very effective readership vehicle that has not been marketed properly.’