Media Analysis: Spotlight on the new Birmingham

As Birmingham continues to attract investment and markets itself as the gateway to central England, Dan Bloch examines its media scene and asks PR agencies and journalists in the city how they interact.

Birmingham has reinvented itself. It may have lost to Liverpool in the battle for European Capital of Culture 2008, but high-profile regeneration projects such as the revamped Bullring shopping centre and the Brindley Place canal-side development have made the city a more attractive place to live.

And with growing numbers forsaking the overpriced South-East, England's second city by population (the metropolitan area houses just under one million) presents PROs with a raft of media to target diverse audiences.

'Birmingham is blessed with good regional dailies,' says Bron Eames, managing director of Sutton Coldfield-based agency Haslimann Taylor. 'The Birmingham Post is very well read in the business community. Its circulation is just under 13,000, but most local companies will receive it along with the Financial Times and The Times. It is an incredibly well-respected paper.'

Strong 'sub-regional' papers

The Birmingham Evening Mail has around 100,000 readers, while the Wolverhampton Express & Star has about 170,000.

Leader Communications head of PR Marc Sanderson points out that the West Midlands also has strong 'sub-regional' papers: 'The Black Country has the Express & Star, Shropshire has the Shropshire Star and Coventry has the Coventry Evening Telegraph. That's fantastic from a PRO's perspective because you can target audiences much more effectively. That structure of really strong sub-regional papers doesn't exist in the South-East.'

Broadcasters such as ITV Central and BBC Midlands have a broader reach, while BBC Radio WM is a popular regional station with high-calibre presenters, says Eames.

Established broadcasters are also being challenged by younger upstarts, such as Kerrang! magazine's radio offshoot, launched last year, as well as BRMB and Heart FM, all of which aim at younger listeners.

But business magazines have seen some consolidation. 'Some magazines have come and gone,' says Fred Bromwich, editor of monthly title Business Finance Midlands. 'Business Report fell by the wayside. Business West Midlands and Business East Midlands produced several regional editions, but those have now been rebranded under the title 550 and there are now only three editions. Others have come along, but a lot seem to be glossy advertorial titles with very mixed messages.' This, he says, makes it difficult to tell who they are targeting.

Overall the sector is vibrant, says Birmingham-based Harrison Cowley deputy CEO Loretta Tobin. 'We have the biggest free lifestyle magazine - 69 - in the country. If you are targeting style-conscious consumers, you have to be in it. You have Birmingham's edition of the Metro free paper on the trains, and for the professionals working for the likes of Eversheds there is the Post.'

Birmingham's PR industry also seems to be thriving. Local big players include Citigate Communications, HC and Haslimann, along with Seal Communications, which acquired rival The Warman Group last year (PRWeek, 29 October 2004), McCann Erickson PR and Willoughby PR.

Other agencies include The Bright Consultancy and Armadillo PR, which acquired Nottingham-based Audax Communications last year (PRWeek, 7 May 2004).

Local media have a mixed response to PROs. 'I get as many calls from London PROs as from Birmingham,' says BBC Midlands Today head of planning John Bray. 'Birmingham PROs are organised and give plenty of notice of events. I've had PROs from London tell me "Here's a story from your patch" and it's in Milton Keynes.'

Central TV News - West forward planner Miranda Genova agrees: 'Birmingham-based PROs are all very good and proactive but it really depends on the agency. We obviously don't figure quite as high on the agenda if you are from London - but if you are selling five consecutive nights at the NEC, you need a lot of people there.'

The message could not be clearer: if you want to win coverage for your company or client in Birmingham, do your homework.

BIRMINGHAM MEDIA WHO'S WHO

BIRMINGHAM POST

News editor: Mohammed Ilyas, 0121 234 5303 (mo_ilyas@mrn.co.uk)

Features editor: Sid Langley 0121 234 5189 (sid_langley@mrn.co.uk)

BIRMINGHAM EVENING MAIL

News editor: Andy Richards 0121 234 5430 (andy_richards@mrn.co.uk)

Features editor: Alison Handley 0121 234 5426 (alison_handley@mrn.co.uk)

CENTRAL TV NEWS - WEST (covers Birmingham)

News editor: Bernard Cole 0121 634 4106 (bernard.cole@ITV.com)

Forward planner, news: Miranda Genova 0121 634 4102 (miranda.genova@itv.com)

BBC MIDLANDS TODAY

News editor: Chas Watkin (chas.watkin@bbc.co.uk)

Head of planning: John Bray (john.bray@ bbc.co.uk); use the main newsdesk number 0121 567 6135

BBC RADIO WM

News editors: Raj Ford/Carolle Forde-Garcia 0121567 6055 (raj.ford@bbc.co.uk/carolle.fordegarcia@bbc.co.uk)

Assistant editor: Jeremy Pollock 0121 567 6022 (jeremy.pollock@bbc.co.uk)

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