Don’t ignore local newspapers as an earned media channel.

[6-minute read]

Local newspapers are well past their heyday in sales and the big companies which own the vast majority of them are struggling financially.

But there are several reasons why you should still look seriously at them when planning to do some media relations, as PR professionals refer to seeking articles in the media.

PR is about all about reaching and having conversations with specific audiences to achieve specific outcomes – not just reaching as many people as possible anywhere. If the key stakeholder audience you’re targeting is in a specific geography, then a local paper can be a good way to reach them neatly. The same story in a national paper would reach more people, but most wouldn’t be relevant. Many local papers are read by more locals than a national paper sells copies in the same place.

Local papers can play a useful role in community engagement – if you’re looking to engage more with the community your business or organisation operates in, talking to it via the local paper can play a useful part. Don’t forget that a conversation should be two-way, so you need to plan how you’re going to listen to the community as well as using local media to ‘amplify’ your message.

Local papers have high reach to older consumers – the majority of local newspaper readers are aged over 45. For many organisations this is a positive – making it a good channel to reach mainly older people about products or services targeted at them.

Most have digital channels too – most, but not all, still have websites and social media pages in addition to their print editions, and publish many of their stories on their websites, linking to them on Facebook and Twitter, where some readers will see them first as many people now get their news from social media and on the web – latest Ofcom data shows 34% of people in the UK get their news from Facebook.

So although local newspaper print sales are declining, they’re total readership is greater than just that in print.

For example, the Fife Herald & St Andrews Citizen is read by 25,181 people in print (according to the latest figures issued by its owners) but 289,359 people read the Fife Today website it shares with the other Fife weekly papers in its group.

They’re read by younger people too – just not many in print and in smaller numbers than the older age groups. For example, while 32% of the Fife Herald & St Andrews Citizen’s print readers are aged 15-34, 28% of the Fife Today readers are in that age group, so the digital channels help reach younger people if they’re one of your target audiences.

Group content – Because of the resourcing challenges faced by most local newspaper groups, many group their local newspapers together into regional clusters which have mostly the same editorial content with only a small number of pages – typically the first few and back ones – changed to localise them for that particular title. Features are usually also shared through the whole group that week or day. The benefit to you is coverage in more than one paper – extending the reach of your PR message into a wider area, which is useful if all the readers are relevant.

An example is the feature below on my client the Strathmore Community Rugby Trust, which is based in Forfar, which ran in all the Angus weekly newspapers, rather than just the Forfar one – which is useful to them as they want to involve people all over West Angus.

The double-page spread published in the JPI Media Angus weekly papers.

They’re a source of trusted news – it’s no good communicating with your audiences if the medium you use isn’t one they trust – as they won’t take any action you may be seeking because they don’t trust the source. One of the benefits of using local newspapers as an ‘earned channel’ is that your news and brand gains a benefit from being reported by a trusted source of information.

A 2018 YouGov poll found 74% of respondents agreed that they trusted the news and information in their local newspaper. Compare that with recent findings from the Kantar Dimension 2020 Report – which found 37% of people in the UK trusted papers overall, 32% Radio, 31% TV, 26% company websites and only 17% trusted social media, with more (33%) distrusting news on it.

They’re emotionally connected to their readers – part of the trust people put in local newspapers is because they’re emotionally connected to them because they’re reporting things about an area they have emotional connections to. And as any marketer can tell you, a key component in any form of marketing is to make an emotional connection with your target audience – because, whether we like to admit it or not, many of our decisions are influenced by our emotions, rather than pure reason.

A quarter of the respondents to the recent Reuters Digital News Report said they’d miss their local newspaper or website “a lot” if it went out of business.

They’re easier to get coverage of local stories in than bigger media – because the story is more relevant to more of their readers than a regional or national outlet. But they aren’t a pushover – the papers you send to need to be well-targeted and you need to build a good relationship with the journalists producing them.

If you’re now convinced not to ignore local newspapers when considering doing media relations as part of a PR campaign, here are four key things you need to understand before deciding to send them some editorial for publication:

  1. Circulation area – Each local paper’s print edition is only sold in a defined geographic area, so you have to find out which ones have readers in the area where your target audiences live. A paper may also have local editions which focus on part of its circulation for some of their pages, so you need to see if there’s one most relevant to your story and if there are dedicated reporters for that edition who you should send it to.
  2. Content focus – You need to find out what kind of editorial the paper publishes. If you have a business story, does it have a business page or use business in general news? It’s no good sending them a story about a topic they don’t cover.
  3. Deadlines – As many weekly papers share reporting and production teams on a regional basis (some producing more than 10 a week), they will tend to have set days when they work on each title. So it’s important to find out when the deadline for any particular title you’re targeting is – so you can send your story on the best day – when they’re looking for content for that one’s next edition.
  4. Technical specifications – As with all media, you need to be aware of the technical specifications of any content you send in e.g. the resolution and minimum size of submitted photos. Getting it wrong creates hassle for ever-busier journalists and makes them less likely to use your story now and in the future.

Considering using local newspapers for some PR? Get in touch to arrange a Zoom call to discuss your goals and how I could help you use local newspapers to achieve them.