When local press is led solely by advertising revenues local businesses loose out

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…

About Clare Bailey

Clare Bailey, The Retail Champion (formerly Clare Rayner), is one of the most well-known and respected retail experts in the UK. With unrivalled knowledge in retail, high streets and consumer matters, she offers unbiased, independent content – whether engaged as a professional speaker, for broadcast media, or for a written feature. Clare is a business woman, entrepreneur and founder of several small businesses. Having been born into a family of successful business owners, it was inevitable that she’d eventually jump off the corporate treadmill and step out on her own! Today her brand portfolio includes The Retail Champion, The Retail Conference, the Future High Street Summit and the Support for Independent Retail campaign. In addition, she is co-founder of Mobaro Retail UK and a non-exec director of Beed Virtual Assistant Services. Having started her career as a fast-track store management trainee for McDonalds, she went on to work with leading retailers such as M&S, Dixons and Argos. She moved swiftly into management roles before being headhunted into senior consulting roles with global software giant SAP, and international management consulting brand, Accenture. Her corporate background in senior retail, consulting and technology roles, coupled with her experience of creating and running her own business, has enabled her to be equally capable whether consulting to global brands or micro businesses. This unique blend has not only positioned her as a leading expert in all things retail, but has enabled her to add meaningful commentary and insight to the debate around the future of the high street, and, how technology is driving fundamental change in the way consumers, and businesses, interact. Clare has become an influential voice in her field, which has resulted in her becoming a regular media contributor and sought-after conference speaker. Often seen on Good Morning Britain, BBC Breakfast, Sky News, and Chanel 5 (to name a few), Clare speaks on a myriad of retail, high street and consumer issues – but is particular adept when it comes to explaining the context behind retail trading results, newly released data, and government stats, in a palatable and informative manner. In addition to broadcast and conference speaking, Clare is the proud author of two best-selling business books published by Kogan Page - The Retail Champion: 10 Steps to Retail Success, published July 2012 and How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets of Getting Your Product to Market, published February 2013. She has provided contributions to various academic texts, including Retail Marketing Management (published by Pearson). With an engaging, conversational yet informative style, Clare writes for press and content agencies, providing features, articles, blogs and opinion pieces as well as contributions to white papers and reports. However, when the situation demands a more serious style, Clare can deliver - In 2016 she wrote an extensive report for a major insurance and risk law firm, as a retail expert witness, to support a public liability suit. She found that project particularly enjoyable as it played well to her strengths – assimilating large amounts of data and information, identifying the key points and articulating that in an understandable manner. When not on TV or speaking at conferences, Clare’s “day job” sees her supporting consumer-facing businesses through her consultancy services. When asked to describe what she most loves about retail consulting it is typically the opportunity to “dig deep”, getting “under the bonnet”, in order to leverage the business data to uncover the insights that lead to “lightbulb moments”. She also loves working on business change programmes that centre on improving the processes and systems to increase profitability by supporting more rapid, better informed decision making, improving the customer experience, or simply by become more efficient and streamlined. In this respect she considers herself a “business engineer” with a brain that works like a relational database! Due to her years of experience, her logical, objective approach, her quick, rational thinking, she is known for being able to cut through complexity, seeing right through to the crux of issues, finding creative solutions that others may have overlooked. As if all that wasn’t enough, Clare is a working mum, juggling a home life in rural Lincolnshire with her partner, their 5 kids, 4 cats, and geriatric Labrador! For all enquiries, contact Clare directly on 01727 238890 or email champion@retailchampion.co.uk.
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13 Responses to When local press is led solely by advertising revenues local businesses loose out

  1. Chris says:

    Great read – and so true. Our local press is keen to sell advertising and doesn’t give two hoots about its presentation or whether it will be effective!

  2. derrick2 says:

    Whilst I can acknowledge the truth of your and your contributors’ comments I think we would all be rather naiive to imagine that advertising and editorial is not an instance of “quid pro quo”. Although local newspapers may be owned by larger groups, why should they not see themselves as deserving of the support of local companies just as independent traders seek the support of local consumers? I can also understand their reluctance to name specific businesses at the expense of others who do contribute to their advertising revenue. It would have been better all round if the St. Albans press had carried an upbeat article about Independent Retailer Month for the benefit of the whole town in the hope that it might generate reciprocal support from new advertisers a little later.
    I, for one, would greatly appreciate a blog on local business marketing, thanks.

  3. Clare Rayner says:

    Hi Derrick
    I do agree with you IF the paper had said “we can run a feature but it will need to be advertising led otherwise we don’t hit our targets” or something like that… that would be perfectly reasonable and open. It was more the WAY it was handled and then the ensuing rudeness from the editor when we expressed disappointment.
    I do think there is a duty for local press to share news, and, a local business winning a series of prestigious awards (in my opinion) is a local good news story. We have plenty of bad news, it’s good to know that our community can also celebrate success!

    I was surprised they didn’t just feature an upbeat article, refer customers perhaps to the FREE UK Shops Directory – suggest to them that if they’d like to show their appreciation for Independent Retailers they could check who was local to them by searching via http://www.independentshops.co.uk – this would have been subtle yet supportive. I am sure some retailers would have also been very willing to support the feature with a little advertising, if the feature was creating a general BUZZ and likely to help increase footfall.
    It failed to achieve that and was therefore a wasted opportunity. It may also have proven to be a waste of money for the advertisers.

    I’ll post a feature about local marketing soon… in the meantime there is a downloadable “how to guide” on local internet marketing available via http://www.independentretailermonth.co.uk/ideas-resources

  4. John says:

    Whilst a great potential medium for communicating with large audiences, the business model that supports free editorial based on paid for advertising is breaking down. For what its worth my view is that this really isn’t worth getting too hot under the collar about. Let them quietly “commit suicide” – a nice analogy by the author – whilst taking them out of the loop completely. Community Facebook pages – mentioned in one of the other blogs on your site – are the perfect way of communicating widely, easily and for free. And what’s key is the level to which people – customers – choose to use them.

  5. Jill says:

    You are so correct. I used to work for an ad agency and the media – both regional & national – make it very difficult for anyone to have a story unless they spend!! I also agree that print ads are not dying it is being strangled by the greed/revenue of the papers. Many companies have pulled ads in papers and now ad in magazines (much longer shelf life and pass along rate) so you get more for your money. The nationals charge crazy rates for ads – again greed and they have no interest in whether your ad works or not they just want your spend. The good times are over for the media. The sad thing is they don’t appear to be interested in good news and supporting local business. If only every regional paper ran a story on 1-2 local businesses each week and set aside the page/s to do this. Promote local regularly and regionals MAY survive!!

  6. Kirsty says:

    Hi – this was a very interesting read. I would be interested in further help and advice on this., Thanks. Kirsty

  7. Allen Clark says:

    Thank you for this wonderful and extremely useful insight into the minds of the local press. After a failed venture many years ago that used local press advertising to little effect and much cost, I swore never to spend a penny on it in my current venture, relying instead on the invaluable word of mouth that can only come with a great range, at a fair price, backed up by customer focused service. Yes, it is a long, slow climb, but I feel that the customers get a better experience, and that we improve through their honest and open feedback.

    When we opened our store on the High St. of our small town, I was expecting to be visited, and indeed I was, by a few salesmen, and one local councillor. No press wanting to know who we are, no MP or candidates, no representative from the traders association… The general public have been wonderfully supportive, but those whose job it is to report or manage the local economy showed no interest whatsoever.

    I’d love you to give us your tips on local marketing, as I feel that is our best avenue for growth. We do facebook and twitter, but it has made very little, to no difference on our national online presence, where we are a very small fish in a global ocean.

  8. Pingback: Melrose Christmas Shopping Trail – #IndieXmas | Independent Retail

  9. alon says:

    As someone who works in the print advertising industry I must say that a newspaper, like any business does need revenue to survive. I stronly agree that there is a fine line that needs to be respected to maintane editiorial integrity but that does not mean that a paper should be expected to cover every local business, especially those that openly do not support them. We have many business’ asking for nothing but free coverage or features. While I would love to give away free pages to every non-profit or earnst local entreprenur, as I said a newsapper is like any business and needs revenue to survive and support it’s local empolyees.

    Please do not take this as an excuse for poor or even biased editoiral but be realistic here, do you really think that every single story in your local paper is basically bought? I’m sorry but while we know those cute christmas concert kids on the cover may sell a few extra copies but they are not writing cheques anytime soon.

    In regards to marketing (Allen Clark).. Media coverage can be very benifical and done correclty a business opening can be an interesitng story as well but a paper cannot possibly cover every sinlge opening. Just like many business’ and expecially in print & editorial postions are being cut left and right and resoruces are getting tight. Try talking to your local newspaper about an advitoiral with a editoiral and ad combo. Many papers can offer a discount on overall space, even 2for1 if your article is submitted by you and written tastfully enough. You can position yourself as an expert in the feild while drawing in interested potential customers to look at your ad longer increasing response.

    All in all i read nothing about radio or television, both of which often have much less local focus (and employees for that matter) and are owned by companies just are large. Any form of advertising can be ineffect and depending on the business and campaign many can be very effective. The importance is to test and measure and be honest with your sales representative about what you are looking for. Like a designer or psychologist they need to know the entire picutre to find something that fits you best.

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