For a while I’ve had a sneaky suspicion that my local press in St Albans weren’t entirely fair in their reporting of local business news. In September 2007, at the opening event of my offices – a new, innovative use of ex-industrial space (www.albansofficespace.com) – we found that the reporting overlooked the launch event, the local buzz, the business incubation opportunities, the innovative use of the space, the attendance of the mayor and a well-known international speaker etc. and chose to focus instead on the fact that one of our window got broken…
Local press that focuses on bad news rather than success stories
The reporting at the time claimed “vandals” had broken the window, eluding to perhaps a segment who didn’t want us about. As it happens we’re next-door-but-one to a pub and from time to time someone whose a bit worse for wear shelters in our doorway waiting for a taxi. It’s not impossible that some stumbled and broke the window – it was only a crack through a small pain – hardly aggressive vandalism!
Still, I was fuming, I felt all our hard work and all the positive energy (and money!) we’d poured into creating something that SHOULD have been exciting news was tarnished and it was a wasted opportunity for our local press to show their support for small businesses.
I concluded that bad news sells and for almost 5 years really didn’t give it another thought…
Local multi-award winning independent retailer given no coverage for success
With Independent Retailer Month gaining momentum and with national press, trade press, radio coverage and several local papers talking about the campaign, how great it would be for the UKs struggling high streets etc, I felt it was odd my local press had not covered the story at all.
Not only is Independent Retailer Month run from St Albans (surely the local press should take pride in reporting on how a local entrepreneur heads up the UK arm of an international campaign?) but also one of the keynote speakers at the launch event was the owner of a multi-award winning St Albans based boutique, The Dressing Room.
So, to begin with I spoke to the owner, Deryane Tadd, to see if she had a contact with said publication that I could approach. Well… I think I touched on a sore point. Deryane’s experience of the press echoed mine 5 years ago. Here is what she had to say on the matter:
“I am appalled at the lack of support shown to local traders by the local press. I emailed the editor of one local paper about Independent Retailer Month, and he said that we would be overlooked for editorial coverage as we were not paying advertisers. For the first few years of trading in St Albans I was a very regular advertiser in the local press. This was when I needed to establish my business within the local community. Now as a more established business I have less need to spend on regular local advertising as I use alternative methods to promote my business. However I would expect support from my local press for newsworthy events regardless of my spend with them.
The Dressing Room has quickly established itself as a leading Independent retailer in the UK, we have won numerous national awards and have really put ourselves on the map in the industry through sheer hard work and passion. However, our local press do not seem interested in what we have to say.”
Not a great situation… still, Independent Retailer Month is about creating a buzz locally – surely they’d be interested in running a story on that?
The local press USED a feature about Independent Retailer Month to flog additional advertising to local retailers!
Knowing Deryane’s past experience, but assuming a positive buzz for both shoppers and retailers was a good thing for press to be communicating, I contacted the editor. After some cajoling he agreed to run a feature. I gave a few specific quotes, gave a list of local participating retailers (1 of whom was The Dressing Room, another was Cuthberts Toys, featured below) and I gave a standard press release for background.
The feature that was produced was a 2-page “Advertising Feature”. It carried the wrong naming and wrong branding (when challenged about this in open forum on twitter the editor stated “I don’t care about the branding” – thanks for that!). That would have been easy to ignore if the feature had actually included reference to the retailers that I’d said were involved. It didn’t. It instead was a small piece of editorial (press release, copy & paste) and a whole array of adverts for local retailers, the majority of whom I wasn’t aware of and had really not been pro-actively supporting the campaign to date.
When challenged that this feature was a mis-used of our branding, had the potential to damage our good name (as in made it look like the only purpose of the campaign was to create a revenue stream for the local press) and asked why the key local retailers were overlooked, I was told that I must live on a cloud (again, that comment was made on twitter in public forum).
I’m not known for my tolerance or patience and I found that utterly unacceptable… I stated that it was now clear that the press was not in fact about reporting local news and activities of local interest but purely for the raising of advertising revenue. Of course my view on this was also coloured by Deryane’s own personal experience…
What do local retailers think about the way that their local press has treated them?
In addition to her points above, Deryane of The Dressing Room said: “To feature Independent Retailer Month in advance of the campaign would have had a great effect on the community, by bringing together local traders and local people supporting the community. It is a dreadful waste of an opportunity to not have featured something positive.”
Kirit, owner of Cuthbert’s Toys, shared a bit of his business’ background, for context, and his views on the matter:
“Cuthberts started trading in St Albans in late 2009 and are an independent toy retailer. Our retail success is based on providing a very good range of products in a pleasant shopping environment with customer service based on knowing what the local community wants.
Over the last few years we have grown to a total of three stores and an online offering. Our business model is the same across all stores, provide the local community with exceptional service with a great range of products, we therefore adapt and change a little according to what the customers want in each store.
In the face of a very competitive environment from multiples grocers and online only retailers this model is the key to our success. As we have grown, our local customers have become loyal and have grown in number. With limited marketing funds our key “advertisers” are these customers who spread the word about us and what we offer in the community.
We genuinely see many regulars who are local and value the uniqueness and empathy we have with them and the community. When Independent Retail Month was launched Cuthberts were pleased to be a part of such a program, this was not about promoting our particular store in any of the towns, it was about preserving the High Street and giving it an identity and a reason to survive.
We recently published a blog on how “keeping it local” helps the community, we summarised it like this. Its a little like a wheel, what goes around comes around… the blog is here http://cuthbertstoys.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/cuthberts-keeping-it-local.html it basically shows that spending locally keeps that spend local.
The immediate community is a essential part of our success and a key part in communicating with them is the local media, social media, and our customers. Locals have reacted well to the promotions and activities which we have ran over the first few weeks, this has encouraged us to offer more events in July.
It is somewhat disappointing that Independent Retail Month, although supported nationally, has had little or no coverage in the any of the local media as a news event. In a constant of retailers closing, and high streets looking like ghost towns, it is hard to see why a story with such local significance appears to miss the pages or local airwaves. Having seen a growing trend over last few years in the strength of the local community wanting to support independent retailers it is odd that such an event appears not to be news.”
Enough said really!
Is print media dying, or, is it committing suicide?
We hear all the time how print is a dying media, how online is taking over, and how people don’t respond to advertising in print as it’s too short shelf-life and offers minimal return on investment.
Businesses, and in particular retailers with stores (thanks to the recent 5.6% rates rise) can ill-afford to waste money on advertising. I hope none of those who advertised in this particular feature feel they wasted their cash… if they spent their money thinking they were supporting the campaign I am desperately sorry for them. They didn’t.
But you know what? I am happy to pay to receive print media that’s open, honest, unbiased and full of useful news, success stories and insights. Whether it be a local publication or for trade, I am confident there is a welcome reception for quality print, even in the internet age.
Perhaps if print is dying it’s because it’s become so beholden to advertising revenue as to be strangled by it, unable to print genuinely interesting stories or report local businesses successes unless there is a few quid in it. What do you think?
Don’t waste your marketing spend!
Finally, and a plea to any retailer who things throwing £100+ at an ad in the local press is a good investment, think again. Look at what Deryane and Kirit have said – establishing loyal advocates in your local community, using social media and online tools effectively, keeping your customers engaged and inspired – that’s how to really generate new business in the internet age!
If you’d like me to write a new blog, full of tips about how to market your business locally, then comment below – If enough of you comment I’ll give you some free advice that will hopefully save you a bit of money too!
PS – Since the beginning of Independent Retailer Month Deryane has reported an increase in sales of 4% on the days she has run key in-store events… now if only the press had publicised the campaign to both retailers and consumers locally, maybe they could have contributed to a bumper month for many more…