Why local, not national?
When it comes to careers, the best piece of advice I ever got was to ‘go to the regions.’ At the time, the wise words of my university lecturer fell on deaf ears. I was a young upstart trying to kick off a career in the media by getting a degree in Broadcast Journalism under my belt. I had my eyes firmly fixed on a fast-paced London newsroom, the goal of producing glossy reports and playing a part in the national conversation.
Overall, the thought of breaking into the media with a stint in regional news just didn’t feel like it could live up to the dream. Images of covering local council meetings, standing outside regional courts in the freezing cold and trudging through muck at county football matches were all conjured up by the prospect!
Fast forward eight years and I’ve learned that regional media has much to teach both the young journalist trying to cut their teeth in the field, and the business building brand awareness.
It’s easy to see why a regional strategy sometimes fails to play a part in PR plans. Why would anyone want to waste time chasing local coverage, when just one hit in a national can really move the needle for your business, right?
But a regional PR strategy isn’t always about instant gratification – at its core it’s about understanding the news of the neighbourhood, how it shapes local community and helps build understanding of the role your business plays in the story and the make-up of a region. At first glance, it might all seem like a lot of hard work but the PR professionals who are willing to roll up their sleeves and play the long game may wonder why they did not do it sooner.
Print news might have experienced sharp decline across the regions but for millions of us the purpose of local news is stronger than ever. Here are just a few of the big lessons that regional news has to teach us and why we cannot afford to let a regional public relations strategy slide:
3 Lessons to Learn from a Local PR Strategy
1. Building Brand Awareness – let’s walk before we run
Just as more does not always mean more, the race to see a brand’s name up in lights just doesn’t start and end with national coverage. From a standing start, it’s virtually impossible for a young company’s brand building efforts to lead to instant success with a splash across national media, no matter how good the story.
The road to recognition should never start with the spray and pray approach – blasting out a press release and spamming the inbox of any journalist with the slightest or even most tenuous link to a story. After all, what would be the point in crafting a beautiful press release which communicates your mission so carefully, only for it to go unread?
Furthermore, all the hard work is in vain if what you’re communicating really has little added value for national audiences. This is where adopting the mindset of a regional journalist can come in very handy. Having the nose for a good story is one thing but being able to determine the stories that matter to local audiences is a skill all of its own. Learning how to differentiate between a story that’s just noise of no real interest to anyone and one that is relevant to a particular community makes all the difference between a bad media approach with poor media coverage and a strategic one which achieves targeted local coverage that engages with communities. As PR professionals, the task for us is to work out what part of a brand’s storytelling and brand identity do people in local areas most care about. Understanding where a brand fits in the tapestry of a community will help keep our media engagement relevant and timely and of genuine value on a local level.
And once you’ve got the approach down, you can start to lay the foundations of a strong media plan. One that forms the basis of a solid business strategy that shows understanding of diverse audiences, their interests and what makes them tick. Starting small doesn’t have to put you on the backfoot. Sometimes the knack to building presence means you need to take the long road round.
2. There is a world beyond the M25
It’s well known that the thought of going beyond Zone 3 is enough to bring some Londoners out in a rash. But it’s not all bad news and decaf soy mochas are available elsewhere – I swear!
In recent years we’ve seen a huge push on the part of many media giants to relocate jobs to new hubs like Salford and Leeds in a bid to spread media presence more evenly across the country. Moves of the sort are all underpinned by the -noble- aim of better representing the whole country while schemes to revive the fortunes of local newspapers look to unpick how local coverage can get a much-needed boost.
Yet despite the closure of hundreds of newspaper titles across the UK since the millennium, the demand for local news has never gone away. Fast rising traffic to online outlets, sustained interest in broadcast news and the quickfire sharing of local news across social media channels have all played their part in offsetting the damage caused by the ongoing decline in print.
And if the last two years have shown us anything it’s that people want local news they can trust. The impact of COVID-19 became apparent first on our doorsteps and in our local communities, giving rise to the need for quality local journalism that spoke directly to each of us in the communities we live in.
3. Opportunity Knocks
Against the dramatic shifts in the way locals consume news, the appetite for it is still strong, meaning opportunity knocks for the marketer who can deftly map out a communications plan that engages communities at every touchpoint. In this endeavour knowledge of the regional news landscape and the value it brings is crucial. Contrary to the cliches, local news never has been all about kittens up trees and local boot sales. It serves a real community purpose and what’s more people genuinely watch it, read it, and engage with it.
On a nationwide level some regional broadcast programmes have so many viewers they outperform national TV shows, while many regional papers are known for strengths in business or political reporting and have the silverware in their trophy cabinet to prove it!
In conclusion, a local PR strategy only stands to empower a brand by connecting it to its audience in a more profound way, that resonates with people in the very community it resides. To summarise:
- At its core, a local PR strategy is about understanding the news of the neighbourhood, how it shapes local community and helps build understanding of the role your business plays in the story and the make-up of a region. It serves a real community purpose and what’s more people genuinely watch it, read it, and engage with it.
- The impact of COVID-19 became apparent first on our doorsteps and in our local communities, giving rise to the need for quality local journalism that spoke directly to each of us in the communities we live in.
- In recent years, many media giants have relocated to new hubs like Salford and Leeds in a bid to spread media presence more evenly across the country. And if the last two years have shown us anything people want local news they can trust. The impact of COVID-19 gave rise to the need for quality journalism that spoke directly to residents in the communities they live in.
Overall, while local journalism may have changed, it’s not gone away and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.
As communicators we should be looking to take advantage of the enduring popularity of local news. And if not now – when faith in local news is riding high – when?