Small daily papers retain influence

Despite their limited circulations, small-market dailies provide fertile ground for PR pros looking to gain in-depth local coverage or reach diverse audiences.

Despite their limited circulations, small-market dailies provide fertile ground for PR pros looking to gain in-depth local coverage or reach diverse audiences.

The unrelenting residential sprawl occurring in many parts of the country is playing a role in keeping small daily newspapers alive and well.

"The dailies in the rural towns where the retail market has dried up and moved to regional shopping malls are struggling," says Brian Steffens, executive director of the National Newspaper Association. "But there are plenty of small dailies now thriving in the suburbs and 'ex-urbs' because there's more car dealers, more banks, more florists, so you can have a bigger ad base."

"In the past, it was not that unusual to hear that the big city dailies were becoming virtually statewide newspapers," adds Hank Amman, vice chairman and director of the Richmond, VA, office of PR and advertising firm BCF. "But that seems to have taken a backseat in recent years, and part of that is because a lot of smaller markets are becoming not so small anymore, and the papers there don't look like small newspapers."

Realizing value

Tom Ciesielka, president of TC Public Relations, says that it is surprising how well-staffed many of these small-market dailies are. "We do a lot of work with authors, so we call papers around the country. And even in small cities in Oklahoma, you'll find these papers still have a lot of space to fill, but they also have reporters for every beat."

Mark Bouffard, CEO of Chicago-based Media Impressions, recalls pitching small papers in the Midwest for a health-supplement client looking to educate consumers on a new product to help treat diabetes.

"As part of our programs, we did outreach to small daily newspapers throughout Kansas and found you can build a successful outreach program and get a good number of impressions by targeting those papers," he says. "But you do need some patience because the reporters and editors are a lot harder to get a hold of. They're out doing their own photography or covering a story, so they're only available for a few hours a day."

Bouffard notes that most of these papers will even look at national trends, but only if they can make them relevant to their audiences. "For most reporters, if the story's good enough, they'll run it, but that's not the case with these smaller dailies," he says. "You need a good story with a local angle."

"I wouldn't say they're easier to pitch, but when you are successful, you can get a little bit better coverage," notes Michael Olguin, president of Formula PR, noting that most media campaigns should include at least some outreach to smaller dailies. "They can also tend to be a bit more receptive to calls and, in some cases, nicer."

For those PR pros who feel it might not be worth the effort to reach such a small circulation, Amman points out that the internet can give many of these outlets a larger potential audience. "We find an awful lot of smaller daily newspapers are very web-savvy," he says. "Their websites are the equal of what you see with large-market newspapers, so they are doing the right things to maintain their customer base."

Convincing clients

A hit in the Poplar Bluff, MO, Daily American Republic or the Fredericksburg, VA, Free Lance-Star might not have your client turning cartwheels. "It sometimes can require a little bit of explanation," Amman says. "But clients who understand what they're doing know that if you're trying to reach 1 million people on the East Coast of the US, you can just as effectively do that through a combination of a lot of smaller media markets."

Amman adds that the demographics in the US might mean that these small papers could become more influential in the future. "We're beginning to get into the retirement age for baby boomers, who are the richest group American society has ever seen," he says. "These are well-educated, well-off people who are moving from major cites to these smaller towns, but they still want all the amenities, including being connected to the world through a daily newspaper."

Pitching... small-market dailies

  • Perhaps more than most outlets, small-market dailies want very local angles, so make sure reporters can connect the story to their communities
  • Don't let their size fool you. Thanks to the web, the reach of many small-market dailies now far exceeds their limited print readership
  • Try to pitch reporters at smaller dailies early in the day because many do double duty and are out of the newsroom

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