Press Relations: Regionals branch out

With local press centres launching more niche titles, how can PROs get in on the act? Mary Cowlett reports.

As mainstream media audiences fragment, so the regional press thrive.

Readership of paid-for regional weeklies has grown by nearly 15 per cent over the past ten years, while consumer spending on local papers is expected to exceed £700m in 2004.

As a result, local press centres are taking advantage of their close connections with their communities and launching a range of niche titles.

These range from the glossy county, lifestyle and weddings publications, to guides on education, eating out, local history and special interest and sporting magazines. For example, Archant (formerly the Eastern Counties Newspapers Group) recently launched Norfolk Afloat devoted to the boating scene on the Broads and east coast. It also publishes Let's Talk! in Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk (see box, p30).

According to the Newspaper Society, this surge in specialist publications means that alongside the 1,300 regional and local daily and weekly papers currently published, there are now over 300 stand-alone magazines.

Elsewhere, many regional media groups have followed the blueprint of the national newspapers and increased the number of special interest supplements they produce.

Glasgow's Sunday Herald even publishes a monthly Fresh supplement for 11 to 15-year-olds, while The News in Portsmouth produces a six-monthly Street magazine for 13 to 19-year-olds.

For PROs, these titles open up a wealth of opportunities. The Trinity Mirror-owned Western Mail and Echo, for example, has established a number of specialist stand-alone titles over the years, including Business in Wales, which looks at business news and features in the south of the region, with a section on commercial property.

'Because the deadline for copy is around three weeks prior to distribution, the magazine cannot rely on up-to-date business news. So, we theme each issue around topics such as training, entrepreneurship and women in business,' says editor of magazines and special publications Simon Farrington.

The paper also produces a lifestyle publication OneWales, which has become Arriva Train's onboard magazine for the region, Living it Up, a quarterly title aimed at older readers and WM - The Women's Magazine targeted at females over 30.

The latter is a glossy quarterly publication with a distribution of 36,000 copies, through 1,000 outlets in South Wales, covering fashion and beauty shops, health farms, spas and hotels. 'The success of WM has been built on the quality of the editorial and the PR opportunities are numerous,' says Farrington. 'The editor will test many beauty-product ranges but be prepared for honest product assessment by writers who know their stuff.'

Local focus

Such locally focused information provides a valued and authoritative opportunity for regional businesses to reach out to their most lucrative customer base.

Independent wine merchant The Oxford Wine Company has its products regularly reviewed in the Oxfordshire Limited Edition magazine, distributed on the first Friday of every month with The Oxford Times.

Earlier this year, Oxford Wine MD Ted Sandbach also appeared in a full-colour spread, explaining the company's history and a recently launched fundraising event entitled 'Call My Wine Bluff'.

'We do need to get into the national trade press, but I think that regional media can be more productive as the local trade is our bread and butter,' says Sandbach.'The magazine also uses a wine writer who is well respected both locally and within the trade, so I'm always happy to help him.'

It is always wise to tailor information and stories to a title's area of interest and geographical reach, and all the evidence suggests that an 'honest', local approach is one of the main reasons why people turn to regional media sources.

'It is a question of trust. People feel that local titles are more in tune with their thoughts and feelings than national newspapers,' says Weber Shandwick account manager Paul Wheeler. 'People are also more likely to read regional publications at home, so they are a good route in to deliver in-depth information that may be read several times.'

WS looks to target the regional lifestyle and women's supplements for health and beauty clients including Witch and T-zone, which can highlight the local availability of their skincare products.

Meanwhile, the regional travel publications provide a suitable geographical skew for WS client Eurocamp, whose customers tend to be concentrated in London, the South-East and North-West of England.

The key issue to remember is that while the circulation of some regional publications may be small, the audiences they deliver are highly targeted.

For PROs looking to promote niche products, such as fishing tackle, stand-alone publications such as Northcliffe Newspapers' North-East Lincolnshire Hooked on Fishing magazine - with a print run of just 5,000 - is probably a better bet for reaching local angling enthusiasts than say the Grimsby Telegraph.

On the other hand, for those pushing mainstream products and services, specialist regional publications offer the ideal environment for putting a friendly local face to a national or multi-national offering.

It is not unusual to see articles in regional property magazines written by the head of the local office for a national chain of estate agents or accountants.

Elsewhere, Sinclair Mason has targeted specialist regional publications to identify regional contestants to promote IPC Media's Bride of the Year competition, the final of which runs in Wedding and Home magazine. Similarly, in the run-up to Christmas, the agency ran a syndicated campaign in the supplements of titles including the Mid Sussex Leader, Driffield Times and Kidderminster Times, designed to generate awareness of BT as a premier partner of the London 2012 Olympic bid.

The agency chose to plug the programme in the supplements rather than the main body of the newspapers as the photography was more likely to appear in colour.

'Supplements aren't governed by the changing news agenda, so even if the prime minister unexpectedly resigns, the content rolls out regardless,' adds associate director Justin McKeown.

It is worth noting, however, that specialist regional publications can be subject to the pressures of advertising or advertorials, so PROs should be wary of the editorial independence of any title they target.

ANNE GOULD, EDITOR, LET'S TALK! - SUFFOLK

Who reads your magazine?

Our readers are typically over 50. They are also likely to have a disposable income in excess of £14,000 a year - money that they want to go out and spend.

How much does your magazine cost and what is its readership and frequency?

The magazine has a cover price of £1.25. It has a circulation of 17,000 and is published monthly.

What are the main areas you cover?

Travel, eating out and gardening. We are also just about to launch a 16-page puzzle section.

Are we talking a heavy regional slant here?

Some of the content is local, but not all of it. In December, our last-minute Christmas-shopping guide featured products our readers could buy in WH Smith and Boots.

What ideas are you looking for from PROs?

We have four pages on health, an interiors section and a pets page. We also used to have a legal and financial page, so if somebody wanted to give us help with that, I'd be willing to take a look.

What are the lead times for supplying information?

We work one month in advance, so in February we'll be looking to do a lot about gardens, in time for our March edition.

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