The North West media scene is booming, according to local PROs, with big, lively cities such as Manchester and Liverpool providing a savvy and voracious audience.
For years, established regional titles such as the Manchester Evening News (MEN) and the Liverpool Daily Post have been first on the scene for any local story. But the print monopoly is
being eroded by a new force - online local news.
Sites such as How-Do.co.uk and manchesterconfidential.com (see boxes) are springing up all the time, and are influential enough to challenge the papers' assertion that they are the ones with their finger on the pulse of the North West's economy.
The strength of demand was enough to convince US publishing company Crain Communications to launch Crain's Manchester Business, its first UK-based publication.
In the US, Crain has titles in hubs such as Detroit, Chicago and New York, but in 10 days' time it will launch a weekly magazine covering the Manchester area's business community. It has scented enough of a market to launch a website and e-bulletins too.
The launch reflects a growing trend of publishers focusing on regional news, particularly the business stories that attract corporate audiences.
The proliferation of news sites and e-bulletins has started to influence the way PR practitioners break stories, says Andy Spinoza, the managing director of Spinoza Kennedy Vesey PR. ‘Stories that used to always be broken by the MEN or Liverpool Daily Post are now often broken days ahead by websites,' he says.
This means savvy PROs can get their clients two bites of the cherry by breaking news with an online newswire and having it followed up in print.
But get it wrong and the paper will downgrade stories they might other-wise have covered in a high-profile way.
Managing client expectations is also an issue, because although coverage on a website can often be more useful than a snippet in the MEN, clients may not always see it this way.
The bottom line is PROs need to think carefully about when, and to whom, they release information.
And if the North West - an area with an economy larger than that of Denmark or Finland - is a barometer for change, well-read niche, regional, online publications are likely to represent the future across the whole UK.
CRAIN'S MANCHESTER BUSINESS
Launched January 2008, goes weekly 4 February 2008
Editor Stephen Brauner
0161 209 5800 (no email addresses yet)
Plans to distribute 15,000 copies on subscription, sell 5,000 on newsstands and break news online
‘We launched in Manchester because it has a vibrant economy, of a similar size to some of those in which we operate in the US,' says acting Crain managing editor Jim Breiner - editorial consultant for the Manchester launch.
‘Our audience is C-level executives - the decision-makers and fee earners who want to do business with other businesses in this area.'
Already, Crain's is posting between eight and ten stories a day on its website, with daily email bulletins due to start next month.
Andy Spinoza says Crain's has ‘raised the bar' and describes it as ‘quite adversarial - it has shown its teeth and taken tough angles'.
Indeed, Breiner says PROs should remember the magazine ‘much prefers' exclusives and will give them priority.
He also warns PROs: ‘We will ask for trading figures - if you do not want to reveal financial information we are not interested - we are in the news business, not the publicity business.'
Brazen acting MD Rick Guttridge says: ‘The launch of Crain's is great news for PR agencies, particularly those working for B2B clients. Previously the North West Business Insider had the market sewn up, but now everyone is upping their game.'
NORTH WEST BUSINESS INSIDER
Launched weekly e-bulletins in April 2006
Editor Michael Taylor (also editorial director of the Insider Group)
firstname.lastname@example.org , 0161 907 9709
Magazine circulation is 17,858 with 9,208 e-bulletin subscribers
MC2 managing director Nathalie Bagnall says: ‘The North West Business Insider has owned the corporate deals and professional services market for the past 20 years.'
The Insider's parent company also runs titles in the Midlands, the South West, Wales and Yorkshire.Online the North West Business Insider's website is little more than a ‘brochure' for the magazine, editor Michael Taylor admits.
But its weekly e-bulletin - which goes out on a Wednesday at noon and features a raft of 100-word stories - is altogether different.
‘The magazine is analytical, but the e-bulletin is punchy,' says Taylor. News for the bulletin can be given to the editorial team as late as 11am on Wednesdays.
News about job changes, the stock market, M&A activity and ‘corporate shenanigans' would be ideal, he advises, as well as ‘a bit of gossip'. ‘We want to break exclusives, and PROs should come to us first because our bulletins go straight into the hands of senior business people.'
The e-bulletin has been specifically devised so that it can be printed out straightaway, rather than necessitating trips to a separate website to view it.
‘Many of our readers are businessmen in their forties, so we have specifically made it so that they can get their secretaries to print it off and read it on two pages of A4,' he says.
The bulletin comes out the day after the MEN's business supplement, and will not go big on a story that the newspaper has featured.
Launched April 2007
Publisher Nick Jaspan, Editor Alan Johnston
email@example.com , 0161 408 7699
19,000 monthly unique users (November 2007)
How-Do has been going less than a year, but it is already causing a stir in the local media scene.
It posts three lead news stories and around seven other pieces a day, ranging from account wins to people moves and general gossip, as well as occasional features and comment - all based around the North West media scene. A digest of the week's news - The Wrap - is emailed to subscribers every Friday.
Jaspan describes his readers as ‘PR people, newspaper reporters and TV and radio presenters'.
Rather than striving for exclusives, Jaspan says he will cover stories that have been elsewhere, particularly because readers often ‘are not only looking that day - often they will come back and search the archive for a certain topic - we offer more comprehensive information than they will find anywhere else'.
Weber Shandwick North MD Jo Leah says her team targeted How-Do when they launched a northern branch of youth lifestyle division Slam. But while the site will certainly generate word of mouth, she advises caution: ‘The North West is a village. It is very gossipy and personal but you learn to live with it and avoid fuelling it. But as a global brand with a big reputation to protect we have to tread cautiously.'
Similarly, MC2 MD Nathalie Bagnall is a fan of the site, but warns sometimes comments posted next to news stories can be catty, particularly given that
they often hide behind the cloak
Launched April 2004
Editor Jonathan Schofield
firstname.lastname@example.org , 0161 228 0044
56,000 subscribers and 124,124 monthly unique users (December 2007)
Manchester Confidential started as a site where local restaurants paid to promote competitions and offers.
But former MEN food writer Jonathan Schofield joined the site in March 2007, with the aim of seeing it become a home to independent editorial content. There is also a version of the site for Liverpool, with Leeds launching soon.
Now, the site is home to subjects such as obesity, and ‘news and satire' about the Manchester scene. It covers health, beauty, food, galleries and parties for an audience of ‘well educated professionals aged 20 and upwards, who want to be kept up to date with what's happening in the city'.
The site also sends an email round-up to 56,000 people every Friday, and is keen to be first to break stories about new restaurants and other lifestyle developments. Being a rolling news website, PROs can get in touch any time.
That said, Schofield urges PROs to remember that the site is no longer led by PR: ‘We find our own stories and we are far from desperate for news - so only tell me things that are really interesting.'
Bagnall agrees that the site has ‘really changed' and is now seen as impartial and a valid ‘way of communicating client messages', as MC2 recently did when it announced the opening of a Krispy Kreme shop in Manchester.
Launched August 2007
Editor Paul Unger
email@example.com , 0151 728 9666
500 subscribers and 1,500 monthly unique visitors (November 2007)
Paul Unger, a former business editor of the Liverpool Daily Post, launched Place North West less than six months ago.
He spotted a gap in the market because national trade titles for the property sector tend to have little space for regional stories, yet there is a booming property market in the North West.
Although Unger's reader pool is limited, he argues his readers are exactly the right sort of people - ‘property decision-makers' in Manchester and Liverpool.
Brazen senior account director Peter Burling says his property clients read the site, ‘so it is somewhere you want to be seen'.
What is more, they read an average of four or five pages per visit, suggesting that they are very engaged with the site.
Given the size of the regional property market, and the number of PROs that work in it, most of Unger's time is spent ‘digesting and following up press releases', but he would love to spend more time breaking exclusive stories - so tip-offs would be welcome.
Andy Spinoza says the site is a welcome addition to the media landscape: ‘Magazines such as the Estates Gazette Interactive are extremely useful and rich with data, but this is a much-needed North West-focused version.'