MEDIA ANALYSIS: It pays to listen carefully to the Echo

As one of the UK's biggest paid-for regional titles, the Liverpool Echo is an obvious target for PROs seeking a mass audience. But, as Kate Magee discovers, a tailored rather than scattergun approach is required.

It is the Scousers’ answer to The Sun. Large-type headlines leap out from each page of the Liverpool Echo, ­announcing the latest news and ­celebrity gossip from Liverpool and Merseyside.

The two daily editions fly off the newsstands. The latest ABC figures put its circulation at 109,756 per issue, making it one of the largest paid-for ­regional titles in the UK.

The Echo’s readership is, as editor Alistair Machray puts it, ‘the broad rump of ordinary people who are making a living for themselves’. This wide appeal makes it an ideal target for campaigns trying to reach a mass audience. ‘The Echo is always useful to affect public opinion, which can in turn be used to influence decision-makers,’ says October Communications director Jon Egan.

This is the reason that Bell Pottinger North’s associate director Richard Clein chose the Echo to kick off a ­recent alcohol-harm reduction campaign – targeting the relevant journalist with an exclusive a week before the launch event. The story was successful – people leaving the event were even able to read about it in copies of the ­paper’s second edition of the day being handed out outside.

Fierce local rivalry
According to editor Machray (pictured above), the paper takes the side of the majority of ordinary people ‘against the movers and shakers of the world’. This stance sets it apart from the other Trinity Mirror title in the region – the Liverpool Daily Post – which has far fewer readers (15,980) but is aimed squarely at the business community.

Despite their different readerships, competition between the titles is fierce. Public relations professionals should note that if a story has run in one of the papers, the other is likely to avoid it. Or, as Chris Hulme, senior account director at PR agency Paver Smith warns, if they absolutely have to cover it, they will tackle it from a ­different – often confrontational – standpoint.

PROs can use this professional rivalry to their advantage, claims Egan. ‘Stories are often successful if you present them as an opportunity to get one over on the competition,’ he says.

This rivalry means the paper is always on the hunt for exclusives with a shock factor that will fit its clearly defined news remit – which Egan sums up as ‘controversy, a row or human interest stories’.

The Echo wants PROs to act as “stringers”. The best relationships with the paper are made by tipping them off about stories and providing interesting pictures. Machray explains how this works: ‘A PRO might tip us off about a celebrity’s whereabouts. This may mean they risk a client relationship, but the next time they do a bar opening or an event in town, we’ll turn up with a camera, because they’ve given us a steer.’

The most irritating thing a PR person can do, according to Machray, is use a ‘scattergun’ approach to sending out press releases. Most of the 18,000 ­releases that arrive every week in the general inbox ‘get bundled up and sent to the advertising department for leads’.

The bugbear is the apparent lack of effort by PROs in finding out which journalist would have the biggest appetite for the story.

‘Acting as a traffic light angers me,’ says Machray. ‘If I receive an email that says press release, I will delete it instantly. I will take the risk of missing a story.’

Bell Pottinger’s Clein says that ­although he prefers to deal with ­specific journalists, this is not always easy due to the high staff turnover at the paper – this month, it lost staff ­members Chris Bascombe and Homa Khaleeli. Conversely, this can often be beneficial for PR professionals in the long run – both journalists landed a position on a national title (News of the World and The Guardian ­respectively).

PROs should also not overlook the potential of the Echo’s website. It ­currently employs 30 regular bloggers, has story archives and vibrant communities – particularly those based around the sections for the two local football clubs, Liverpool and Everton.

Importance of multimedia
The site has the capacity to delve into a story more deeply by providing video clips or maps to illustrate ­locations. ‘PR executives have not yet cottoned on to the importance and seniority of the new multimedia editor positions in the media,’ says Machray.

‘They are up there with associate ­editors. Our multimedia editor John Dempsey decides what goes online and how.’

Machray suggests each story should be treated as a package, complete with pictures for the paper and audio or ­video clips that will can be used ­to good effect online. He urges PROs to think carefully about what pictures they provide. ‘We have got enough thumbs-up, cheque presentation and hard-hat pictures to cover the Liver Building,’ he says. ‘Those types of picture don’t fit our profile. Take a picture that journalists would like, not what your client thinks look good.’

A final obvious, but crucial, point to remember is that the Echo focuses on the local angle. ‘We purge national and generic stories from the paper. We may find a place for a really big national story, but it would not go on the front page,’ says Machray. ‘If people want national news, they will go to national papers.’

Deadlines Give information as early as possible. Seventy per cent gets written the night before, with the rest being done on the day, between 7am and 9.30am.

QUICK GUIDE TO THE ECHO...

Each day has a different section pullout:

Monday Sports
Tuesday ‘Time off’ family leisure guide
Wednesday ‘Look’ for woman
Thursday Food, drink and jobs
Friday ‘24/7’ leisure guide
Saturday ‘Football Echo’

CONTACTS...

Editor Alastair Machray
T 0151 4722507

Managing Editor Chris Walker
T 0151 4722350

Deputy Editor Andrew Campbell
T 0151 4722343

Assistant Editor Andrew Edwards
T 0151 4722465

News Editor Maria Breslin
T 0151 4722453

Sports Editor John Thompson
T 0151 4722508

Features Editor Jane Haase
T 0151 4722512

Multimedia Editor John Dempsey
T 0151 4722408

 

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