OPINION: Freesheets clash with the green agenda

The war of words over the two million freesheet newspapers that daily litter or illuminate London, depending on your viewpoint, is reaching boiling point.

Associated Newspapers, owner of the paid-for Evening Standard, has attacked the decision of thelondonpaper, published by News International, to add 100,000 copies to its print run.

Many of the extra copies will end up littering the streets, claims Associated. But while embracing the green agenda, the publisher conveniently ignores its own contribution - some 350,000 free copies of London Lite - to the moun­tains of giveaway newsprint distri­buted around the capital.

For those of us whose business is the delivery of high-visibility coverage, two new newspapers in the capital in the past year have provided rich opportunities to increase client cuttings files. The free Metro newspaper is already established as a valuable showcase for consumer and celebrity PR placement.

All three freesheets are staffed by executives and writers who are generally receptive to creative PR. None is averse to giving product plugs when the creative or the personality warrants it. Their editorial teams are mainly the young products of the modern media age, which sees consumer PROs and journalists as partners rather than adversaries.

For clients, the youthful and cosmopolitan readers of London Lite and thelondonpaper are attrac­tive. Yet as the environmental arguments proliferate, doubts about the value of coverage in the freesheets are surfacing.

Neither London Lite nor thelondonpaper has a circu­lation, merely a print run. There is a world of difference between 276,000 people daily choosing to buy the Standard and around half a million copies of thelondonpaper being pushed into reluctant hands. Active purchase of the Standard at 50p a time indicates an intention to read, while freesheets may be skimmed or tossed away.

Paid-for newspapers also have clear readership profiles, which means advertisers and PROs can deliver to a specific audience. Free newspapers are given to anyone who will take them. No one can clearly define the audience that reads and may be influenced by them, as opposed to that which simply receives and dumps them.

There is also concern among clients whose CSR and environmental ideals clash with what they see as wanton environmental waste. Which means PROs should make hay and pack their cuttings books while the freesheet sun still shines. Soon there may be no such thing as a free cutting.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and was formerly a senior newspaper executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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