Local journalism is not a sexy topic, but it is an important one nonetheless.
For far too long, far too many people, including PR people, have taken local journalism for granted. What’s more, the local media landscape has been upended even further by the coronavirus pandemic.
From small rural communities covered by weeklies to larger towns covered by their own daily title, newspapers have been an essential part of local life and their journalists have chronicled events from the mundane to the monumental, sparked necessary local debate at times when it was needed most and held those in positions of power to account with astonishingly plenteous impact.
As public relations consultants, it is easy to slip into the pitfall of pursuing national coverage at all costs simply for the gravitas that ensues from seeing a client’s name in a highly esteemed national title. Indeed, for some clients, local is the only medium through which their objectives can be met, and so it is about understanding to whom the client wants to get their message from the outset.
While national media allows for maximum exposure, it is important to acknowledge that properly harnessing the power of local media publications allows you to craft your message to a narrower and more well-defined target audience. Unlike national outlets, they are able to dive further into a story and revisit the issue if necessary – and not just give the “bigger picture”.
The central role that regional media plays in constructing and cementing the identity and views of the communities that they serve is all too often misjudged and, as a result, the execution of a campaign underperformed.
Local journalism threatened
Unfortunately, local media is on its last legs – or at least seriously threatened – to the detriment of understanding the true identity and interests of local towns and cities outside the “London bubble”.
There are far fewer ‘local’ papers today than there were 20 years ago and those we do have are often staffed by people covering several geographic areas, which defeats the object of getting to know your patch and the people who live in it.
The business models on which local newspapers have been based are under tremendous pressure, not least as readership is eroding and overall revenues plummeting.
Yet I make no apology when I say that so-called “citizen journalism” and hyper-local resident websites are simply no substitute for the rigour of local outlets.
They offer a host of advantages to effectively driving your message over national publications, including being more connected to their readers, having a well-defined issue set and offering a more in-depth analysis of the issues at hand.
As strategic advisers, it would be a dereliction of duty to overlook their value and fail to use them for the benefit of clients where appropriate.
One must also not forget that the vast majority of journalists start their careers at local titles, and so PR professionals should see this as an opportunity to make contacts for life.
If nothing else, as someone who grew up with both the Manchester Evening News and The Times on the family kitchen table every Saturday morning, I shall never underestimate the power of local media.
Drew Salisbury is a consultant at The PR Office.
(Originally published by PR Week on 26 October 2021)