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We recently interviewed Simon Sarahs, who has been the Digital Display Director at Newsquest in London. Simon explained why local media executives shouldn’t be so quick to downplay what they offer.

The number one advantage that newspapers have right now is the fact that their business model supports the feet on the street and the local presence to be able to be there in that market to sell to small businesses.

Here’s a summary of our interview with Simon.

The Marketing Mix

Lloyd (OwnLocal): We’ve said for a while that newspapers should consider themselves local agencies so they can sell the “marketing mix”: newspaper, banner ads, add on Facebook, even TV/radio. Having a local presence affords you the ability to go out and sell digital services. Do you see that being the case?

Simon: Absolutely. We’re very quick to dismiss what we’ve got. We look at other organizations that have shrunk and we beat ourselves up over it. The reality is, we still have massive sales forces; we still have people on the ground; we still have trusted relationships.

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Actually, the thing that still swings open the door when you go to see a client is that they understand the newspaper brand. If they’re going to start buying more digital marketing services, a good entry point to do it at the very least would be to a trusted media organization rather than someone who’s just walked off the street.

If we can capitalize on that, and quickly, we can gain a competitive strong advantage in every area where we print. The only people who can mess this up are us. Any startup would kill for our advantage.

Lloyd (OwnLocal): If I’m a local digital agency startup, I have to sell so much digital advertising because the margin is so small, whereas print is so huge . . . do you think as an industry, we can cover that delta? Right now, you have the benefit of print to be able to cover digital advertising, which is making money, don’t get me wrong. But if you were to back out all those costs, can it support the organization?

Simon: I’ll give you an example of some of the things we’ve been doing on a local level.

We set up our own agency, and the idea was that the reps were going out and speaking to larger local businesses with reasonable marketing expenses. Some of that media would go across our platform, website, and newspapers, but not all of it. Because we had the advantage of balancing that spend across our media as well as off-network, we still worked to a healthy margin.

We’re still talking about specific geographical areas, not someone reaching a whole nation. As long as we’re careful with how we do it and we’re not greedy, then we can quite comfortably manage what we’re doing.

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The business will survive, I believe, it will just look a lot different. We’ve got to be aware that the trust in print/media products is what opens doors. Ensuring we have a strong editorial proposition is key to our future. It’s the proof in the pudding, and it gives us opportunities in the local area.

The type of people we transact in paper, we shouldn’t be trying to transact those people online the same way. We’ve overly obsessed around small adverts, your typical classified stuff, and in reality our future in the local areas should be dealing with the larger businesses” Yes, we can still promote the smaller ones, but it’s not going to work in the same way it did with paper, because the spend just isn’t there.

Lloyd (OwnLocal): So the challenge is maintaining editorial quality and still also maintaining advertising.

Simon: Yes, that’s the challenge, but there are multiple models. We’ve been looking at ad-blocking and small micro-payments to access our sites… $3-4 a month.

With print, yes you do have those high mileages and you have massive overheads that come with it as well. You have old buildings, huge plots in city centers… there’s a lot of efficiency yet to come in the local media space.

Lloyd (OwnLocal): How much longer are you going to be printing stuff in the UK, do you think?

Simon: Hopefully, we’ll still be printing by the time I retire. Might be a niche audience, though.

Seriously, I’m digital through and through. I’ve worked in this all my life. OK, I got my first email address in university, so I’m not a millennial, but here’s the reality: I still pick up a newspaper on the weekends. That’s my leisure time; I like the tangible product.

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Especially when it boils down to local. You get married, you have children, you’re in your mid-thirties, and you start to become very interested in the local area.

And the whole arena around fake news and the trash that’s fired at you on a minute-by-minute basis isn’t the same as picking up a concise, consolidated view of what’s happened that day or week in your local area. Something that’s been widely vetted and is authentic.

I’m not so stupid as to say there’s going to be a major resurgence and everyone should go buy print shares. But I do think there’s going to be a shift back towards the trusted media brands over the next few years, though not necessarily in print.

The audience of our news is the biggest they’ve ever been—ever. We just haven’t been particularly effective at servicing and monetizing that audience in the most effective and kind way. We bombard people with media adverts on a second-by-second basis. It’s inundation to try to make this work, and that model is not necessarily right.

As for your actual question, 15 years maybe? I don’t know. Who does?

Conclusion

It’s good to see that companies like Newsquest have worked at being the first and best source for access to local audiences, especially in local towns. Not that they’ve got it right 100%, but they know they need to get there.

This episode is based on an interview with Simon Sarahs, former Digital Display Director at Newsquest. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to the Local Media Executive.
If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.

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