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Consultant Ella Blake explores what the recent revival in local news means for PR professionals

Posted on Thu 10th Sep, 2020 in: Blogs by Ella Blake

Throughout 2020, we’ve seen the world become more localised, from local lockdowns to the wave of summer staycations and everything else in-between. Interestingly, the way we consume media is no exception, statistics show that we’ve all been tuning into our local media more regularly compared to before COVID-19.

More people not only want to hear about lockdown and coronavirus updates, but to hear about positive stories in their towns and cities too. It can be argued that this shift has come from people looking to get a balanced, authentic, and trusted viewpoint of what matters to them from the heart of their communities.

The benefits of becoming more localised

At Aberfield engaging with local news is often a key part of our communications strategies as we deliver stakeholder engagement for organisations such as the NHS, BBC and TVL, as well as large infrastructure and regeneration projects. We take an ‘audience first’ approach, so working out who our clients’ audiences are before putting forward strategies and PR programmes is key to our work. For many of our clients this means engaging with the public in a specific area of the UK, placing local media high on the agenda. Working with an organisation’s local community and its press can be important for engagement, sales, public image, corporate social responsibility, awareness, recruitment and more. So for us, it’s great to see interest increasing in this area for our clients, knowing that their target audience is increasingly engaged with this media. It’s also brilliant to see this positive feeling towards the local press for the hard-working and talented teams who work there, often with ever reducing resources.

From a personal perspective, it has also been uplifting to read about communities coming together, shopping local to support small businesses and helping neighbours.

Another cause of this shift is the increased use of technologies and innovations in a time when human contact is so severely restricted. Zoom-hosted webinars have become increasingly popular, particularly during lockdown, and they are something which local media, particularly business press, were able to adapt to well, as demonstrated by TheBusinessDesk.com. In line with this, outlets have adapted their digital strategies to make more use of podcasts and video content to bring news, insight and thought leadership to their audiences in formats which work for them.

These positive reports in the media and the shift in people’s reading and listening habits highlight what supporting the community around you can do.  

Is local news thriving?

While many reports highlight the increase in the consumption of local news, it’s not all as positive as it may seem. Another impact of COVID-19 is that many businesses are short on cash, and local media is no exception. With operations hindered due to restrictions, businesses are looking for ways to save money and advertising budgets, the prime revenue stream for local media, has been severely impacted. Recent reports show that some local radio stations and local newspapers are making cuts and, in some cases, closing, as their owners look to reduce costs. Bauer media is one company which has been impacted by this, and the knock on effect has been seen by stations like Minster FM and Stray FM. For Stray FM this meant being absorbed by a parent company, reducing its ability to produce local output. However, in contrast to this, and in support of the view that local media still has a commercial future, Minister FM has been snapped up by York Mix – further demonstrating the current demand for local news.

What does this mean for PR professionals?

In a time when people are increasingly wary of ‘fake news’, the relationship between local news and its readership is one built on trust. While we were seeing this shift before COVID hit, the need for local news to communicate authentically to its audiences has become even more pressing.

Another shift we have seen heightened over lockdown, and something PR agencies are increasingly aware of, is the clear difference between print and online coverage. The changes in lockdown measures and impact on print sales have demonstrated the importance of online updates, which are supported by social media updates and hyper-local community influencers and online groups who report and react to news in real time. In contrast to this, print papers continue to primarily serve a different demographic, often made up of older, more traditional readers. This audience ordinarily has the time to read more in-depth, analytical, and reflective content.

For PR professionals this presents new opportunities and risks for clients. With local news being presented at the heart of communities, PR agencies can look at the impact and the appeal of working with local news and finding hyper-local angles, rather than needing to focus on finding local angles to national stories or being solely focused on national coverage. Taking this time to build relationships with local news editors as well as contacts in communities will be beneficial for PR agencies and their clients in the long term.

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