Detroit has taken its share of knocks in recent years as the city's economy has been buffeted by the struggles of the Big Three automakers, as well as the slowdown in the region's once strong manufacturing base.
"A decade ago, the combined circulation of the two dailies was well over a million and local TV news had million-dollar anchors - those days are gone," notes Kelly Kolhagen, SVP and deputy MD at Hass/MS&L. "But it remains a great news town. Oakland County is still one the wealthiest counties in the US. There's a hell of lot of money, a hell of a lot of power - and it's not just auto."
One major reason for their continued importance is that Detroit media outlets end up casting a wide net, reaching more than 5 million people throughout southeast Michigan, says Michael Layne, partner with Marx Layne & Co. "Almost every important national media outlet still has bureaus here," he adds. "But it's a little challenging to pitch them on anything other than auto because that's what they're here to cover."
Airfoil Public Relations VP Tracey Parry adds that in many ways local media tends to pick up that slack, actively looking for positive business stories of all types to counter the negative news from the auto sector.
"For companies that are out of this market, having local relevance is key," she notes. "That means offering reporters significant experts or customers from Detroit proper, the suburbs, or academic institutions like the University of Michigan."
Many parts of the metro Detroit area remain very affluent, which is fueling a growth in local magazines, including lifestyle outlets like Hour Detroit and Ambassador, and the business-themed monthly DBusiness. R.J. King, DBusiness' editor, says he is looking for a mix of business and some high-end consumer news, adding, "We are mostly feature- and profile-driven, but we do have a breaking news section and also focus on executive lifestyle."
Even with two solid and fiercely competitive papers like the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News, the region's real media strength may be in the sheer number of vertical media outlets like Crain's Detroit Business, AutoWeek, Automotive News, Great Lakes IT Report, and Michigan Technology News providing coverage in the region.
"There's a lot of specialization in reporting that's taking place in this market," says Parry, "And our clients want strategies that allow them to be relevant to all those publications because there isn't one clear dominant leader."
The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News are part of a joint operating agreement, but still competitive, so consider exclusives to ensure better placement
Local radio personalities like WJR's Paul Smith are very influential and can help startups and mid-stage companies raise their profile in the region
Detroit is the birthplace of everything from Motown to Eminem to the White Stripes, so local media remains very interested in area culture, arts, and entertainment trends