The decline of regional newspapers, the explosion of online global information sources, the desire for ‘snapshot' communications via email and now Twitter - how does this rapidly evolving communications landscape impact on regional PR?
Based on my experience of working for more than 20 years on national and regional PR campaigns, I believe it has never been more pertinent for organisations to engage with their customers or clients, their stakeholders and intermediaries - both at a regional and a very local level.
To fully engage people, furthermore, it is no longer enough for PR consultants to focus solely on media relations campaigns. More and more, we need to not only consider in detail the socioeconomic and demographic profile of the audiences, but also the lifestyles and life stages of individuals within these groups. This will enable us to clearly establish what will be the most influential method of communicating with them.
Behavioural change is the key PR issue of the day and to effect significant change, it is at a local level that the campaigning truly hits home. Despite being exposed to global news and information, we still feel a need to connect with our local environment.
When it comes to regional media relations, while the decline in regional newspaper circulation is well documented, this is not an indication that people no longer desire regional news. Instead, it is more that they are responding to other news and information channels that have opened up at a local level.
First, freesheets took on the mantle of providing very local material, then online media began to proliferate, in some cases cannibalising traditional media in the regions. When we add social media and word-of-mouth into the mix, we are creating PR campaigns that employ a potent blend of tactics and channels, engaging the hearts and minds of regional audiences.
With trust in big global organisations at an all-time low in the UK, PR consultants who engage with regional audiences are crucial, advising on the most appropriate communication method and channel to influence audiences at a truly grassroots level. However, it is not just corporations that are drawing upon our in-depth knowledge and established relationships in the regions. Journalists are coming under increasing pressure to seek new ways to source news and information, as titles close down, merge or establish online sites. Gone are the days of specialist correspondents, or truly investigative journalism, in regional media.
Now, more than ever, PR consultants are being welcomed by journalists as an invaluable resource, providing professionally written materials or access to local expert spokespeople.
It is no longer enough to be a generalist, with the right regional connections; clients are increasingly seeking specialism. It might be specialist knowledge and understanding of a market sector or specialist PR skills such as crisis and issues management. Specialist programme delivery is also critical, especially in the field of CSR, stakeholder or community engagement.
This is where Trimedia comes into its own, thanks to a fully developed network of wholly owned offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Southampton, and sister companies or affiliates in Norwich, Newcastle, Dublin and Belfast.
This structure allows us to operate at a very local level for independent companies in each region and easily switch to a broader view for national organisations looking to reach audiences across the UK.
It is also important to ensure that sector expertise - across areas such as property, health, education, the environment and CSR - is not confined to any given region. Rather than housing these capabilities within silos, a better approach is to create ‘virtual' expert teams of specialists and sector experts.
So, for example, Christine Emmingham, who heads our Northern operation, plays a key role in our virtual education team, sharing learnings gained from her clients in the region with the group.
An example of this strategy comes from our work with the West Midlands Regional Development Agency through Advantage West Midlands (AWM), where we have been able to engineer our consultancy team to combine regional insight with sector knowledge.
AWM's brief requires Trimedia to deliver PR that supports its recently launched Business Cluster Programme in 11 industry areas.
To meet the brief, Trimedia has fielded a multi-disciplined consultancy team, with the core team operating from our Birmingham-based Midlands operation, together with a team member from each of our centres of excellence, corresponding with each of AWM's clusters. This provides AWM with a 13-strong team that collectively combines regional insight and in-depth knowledge of each of the 11 sectors the campaign supports.
Whatever the PR requirement in the regions, an agency must provide the right combination of geography, insight, expertise and experience.
In these changing times, every day brings new challenges, but also new opportunities. The rapidly evolving media landscape, the challenging economic climate and the need for tightly targeted campaigns that will influence our audiences and effect real behavioural change are keeping regional PR very much alive and kicking.
Case Study - ConstructionSkills
For the past three years Trimedia has undertaken PR activity for ConstructionSkills, the Sector Skills Council for the construction industry, focused on generating coverage in the regional media.
The campaign calls for support for initiatives undertaken in each region, as well as extending the reach of national stories by tailoring them for a regional audience.
Our work highlights the career opportunities in the construction industry for audiences including minority groups, young people and women. We focus on driving awareness of initiatives to encourage people into the industry and to consider doing an apprenticeship to kick-start their career. Our activity also seeks to highlight the business benefits of training to construction employers. This includes taking on apprentices, and the training plans and grants available to upskill the existing workforce.
During 2008, more than 700 pieces of coverage were achieved, equating to about 58 pieces per month. This created more than 36.6 million opportunities to see and an AVE in excess of £1m.
ConstructionSkills PR manager Jenny Rushforth says: ‘The results of Trimedia's work include high-quality print and broadcast coverage, a solid media contact programme and increased confidence of Construction-Skills staff in dealing with the media.'