Analysis: Take a closer look at the North-East

Spurred by growth in tourism and the arts, the North-East of England is undergoing a culture-led makeover. Ian Hall asks how PROs should best target the newspapers, TV and radio stations that serve the region

The vista along the Tyne in central Newcastle has come to symbolise cultural rebirth in a region commonly associated with industrial decay. The widely lauded Baltic arts centre and The Sage Gateshead reflect a city that, though never lacking pride or identity, has renewed optimism after decades of decline.

The North-East region – which, as well as Newcastle includes urban centres such as Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Darlington and Durham – is home to several well-known papers such as Newcastle's Evening Chronicle and The Journal. Other popular titles include the Sunderland Echo and Middlesbrough's Evening Gazette, plus the widely distributed Northern Echo and Sunday Sun.

Broadcast outlets include Tyne-Tees TV and Metro Radio, while Buckinghamshire-based The Local Radio Company operates Sun FM (Sunderland), Alpha FM (Darlington) and Durham FM. Local magazines include listings guide The Crack and glossies such as Hexham-based Living North.

Know your north
Homegrown PR agencies such as Robson Brown, Bradley O'Mahoney, Karol Marketing and Golley Slater (the former Northern Profile's office in Newcastle has been rebranded) are no doubt well connected with their local media. But many journalists in the region lament how more distant PROs seem to lack basic geographic nous, often failing to differentiate Yorkshire from Northumbria, let alone knowing, say, their Alnwick from their Easington.

Northern Echo business editor Julia Breen says: 'Some tend to be a little clueless about the fact we cover the whole North-East. PROs need to know their geography; we are nowhere near Doncaster.'
Myles Ashby, news editor at Stockton-on-Tees-based 96.6 TFM, which shares a news-room with Magic AM, recalls: 'I had a call from some Australian in London trying to plug an event in Leeds – but we have a sister station that would cover that. PR people will significantly increase their chances of coverage if they bother finding out our transmission area.'

Journalists will insist on a story idea having data, a case study or access to interviewees within their patch. As Sunderland Echo features editor Paul Taylor points out: 'There generally has to be a geographical boundary [to a PR-pitched story]: say it was a kids' safety campaign, I'd want an interview with a family or officer in our area.'

Competition prizes are generally appreciated, he says, adding: 'The prize does not need to be as grand as a car. In fact it's often the case that the lesser the prize, the more people that enter. We did a deal with Knorr on our recipes page and got about 200 responses.'

David Donaldson, outgoing news editor at Alpha FM, says: 'We're particularly interested in health stories: PROs need to think of something that affects a 35 to 39-year-old woman with two kids. Local statistics are a good base for stories for us.'

Rik Martin, news editor at Century FM, notes: 'A shopping chain expanding into the North-East could well be a story for us – a chain already here opening another outlet probably isn't.'

On business stories, Ashby advises: 'Thirty jobs to go, or to be created, would be story four or five on a quiet day. 300 jobs would be top – we'd want interviews as soon as possible.'

PROs with a tabloid-flavoured story should consider the Sunday Sun. Chief reporter Caroline Smith says: 'Everything for us has to be exclusive – we won't take it if it's already been offered to the Journal or Chronicle. We like case studies and things that are a little bit quirky. But follow-up calls are infuriating – don't bother, we get hundreds of press releases each day.'

The North-East's journalists are certainly not ignored by outside PROs. 'Don't put my number in your piece,' jokes one reporter when PRWeek calls. 'We don't want PROs to call more than they already do.'

PR professionals unable to differentiate Mackems from Geordies need to help minimise such wariness among hacks by acquainting themselves with the region's proud local identities and issues before picking up the phone.

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