MEDIA ANALYSIS: Birmingham's buzzing scene

The Birmingham Mail is expanding upon its print success with a new website. David Quainton discovers a region in the throes of modernisation.

The Birmingham Mail: successful move into online content
The Birmingham Mail: successful move into online content

The CIPR's annual Grand Prix PRide awards were held within Birmingham's revamped City Hall last week - a £35m renovation resplendent with imported American glass and restored to its stately Victorian music hall beginnings.

In some ways the venue symbolises England's resurgent second city, which has seen major regeneration over the past few years.

Birmingham's best-selling newspaper - shifting an average of 67,000 copies a day, peaking at 90,000 on a Thursday when the jobs section appears - is the Birmingham Mail. And like the city it serves, it is rapidly modernising, with the relaunch of Birminghammail.net recently.

The paper's design may bring to mind a student newspaper, but it teems with opportunities for PR people. It is also well regarded by the people who buy it and by the Birmingham-based PROs who court it.

Regional identity
'The Birmingham Mail is important to the region's identity,' suggests Birmingham-based Kinetic Communications MD Angela Podmore. 'It reaches the man on the street, which is important to many of our clients. Getting into the paper, which can be done with sensible PR, pleases clients because it does get a positive response.'

The Mail is overtly proud of its readership and location, and this shows in the features and profiles it contains. In the coming months it is including a local family history guide, to help people track their Brummie background.

'The Mail has always very much been of the people, for the people. It is tabloid in nature and people-focused in its approach,' says Smarts director Rebecca Scully. 'It remains an excellent tool for building brand profile at a regional level for clients targeting the Mail's particular demographic.'

That demographic, according to editor Steve Dyson, is primarily lower middle class or skilled working class families.

'The range is broader than that, but if you had a story that was aiming at this market, then you would stand a good chance,' says Dyson, who is a Brummie himself.

Being a fiercely regional publication, the Mail naturally prefer pitches that affect its readership on a local, rather than national basis. It will often use the classic regional publication ploy of taking a national story and finding how it affects its readers - for example, after the Budget. But, on the whole, a story with a Birmingham flavour is what PROs should be looking for.

'Its human interest focus requires a human interest approach from agencies and in-house teams alike,' agrees Scully. 'The best chance of securing coverage would be a regionally relevant news story substantiated by an interesting and relevant regional case study.

Broadly regionalised "Midlands" stories have much less chance of being selected than a story that relates specifically to Birmingham statistics - but then the same can be said of any regional newspapers to some degree.'

Each day of the week the Mail has different themed sections, including the aforementioned jobs on a Thursday. Monday is the paper's consumer edition, family life tales are featured on Tuesday, travel on Wednesday, a 20-page 'what's on' feature on Friday and local history on Saturday.

'I think you would find it hard to locate a regional paper with a wider variety of content, says Dyson. 'We try to make ourselves open and all our numbers are available on the website. Communication is important to us.'

The openness, and want of a 'conversation' with its readership, is why the website had a wholesale revamp in January. Birminghammail.net has proved very popular, generating 1.8m hits in its first full month of operation.

Great potential
One Birmingham-based PR director says she is not yet sure if it has reached its full potential, but it is another avenue for PR professionals to gain coverage.

'It is hard to gauge its exact worth (to clients) at this early stage, but it does seem promising,' she says.

Dyson says the website is a useful tool for 'Oftsed reports and things like that', that readers can peruse online, while not taking up magazine space.

'It is fully integrated, so ideas that work in print and on the website are always appreciated,' he says. 'If a PRO can give stories that demonstrate market knowledge, audience knowledge, and will work on both media then we want to hear from you.'

ADVICE FROM THE EDITOR
Steve Dyson, editor, Birmingham Mail
What do PROs need to understand about the Birmingham Mail?
We have a very specific market. It is Birmingham and the near region. Do not pitch us stories that could apply to anywhere - tailor them to the Birmingham audience. There is a lot of space in the newspaper and even more online, but it will not get in if it is drivel.

How are PROs using the Birmingham Mail well?
Mike Dalton (Royal Mail spokesperson) and Phillip Bateman (Travel West Midlands' divisional corporate affairs director) are two of my very best contacts because they have taken time to get to know the readership. They produce bespoke press releases that always catch the eye of reporters.

Are there any sections of the site or newspaper that benefit particularly from help from PROs?
At the moment the town is talking about West Brom's progress in the FA Cup, so content related to that is at a premium. We are also starting a local history feature, serialising a book and showing how to build a family tree. The newspaper features a wide variety of content and we are always happy to listen.

CONTACTS
Editor - Steve Dyson 0121 234 5688 steve.dyson@birminghammail.net

Deputy editor - Carole Cole 0121 234 5304 carole.cole@birminghammail.net

Head of news - Andy Richards 0121 234 5430 andy.richards@birminghammail.net

Multimedia editors:

Features - Anna Jeys, 0121 234 5280 anna.jeys@birminghammail.net

Sport - Mark Langford, 0121 234 5387 mark.langford@birminghammail.net

Business editor - Jon Griffin 0121 234 5670 jon.griffin@birminghammail.net

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