How To Leverage the Reach of Local Newspapers

“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
So goes the famous quote by Mark Twain, and it certainly applies today to one significant portion of the newspaper industry: local community papers. While news of the never-ending struggles of daily papers has become omnipresent, many community newspapers are not only surviving—they’re thriving. According to a survey by the National Newspaper Association (NNA), 81% of adults read a local community newspaper every week. Still, these papers are by no means immune from the tough economy.

The reality is that many are looking for ways to be more efficient as they provide significant local coverage to their audiences. Those looking to make an impact in these days of shrinking PR budgets have a very real opportunity to take advantage of this perfect storm of reader interest and newspaper need for content. PR professionals who aren’t paying attention to this often overlooked medium are missing out on an opportunity to deliver their brand stories to millions of interested, engaged and loyal consumers.

So, what’s the bottom line for PR professionals? Here are four tips to weigh and consider:

â–¶ Understand the marketplace. Community papers reach more than 60 million readers a week and, on average, readers spend 40 minutes reading an issue of their paper. In a world of rapidly diminishing attention spans, 40 minutes equals serious engagement.

Community newspapers are not only well read, they carry with them a high level of credibility. A 2009 survey by Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) that we sponsored at ARAnet found that consumers ranked weekly community papers as more credible than magazines, and just below online media. Clearly, we’re looking at a vast and engaged audience that’s ripe to be tapped from a PR perspective.

â–¶ Appreciate the potential. Part of the secret of survival for community papers is their willingness to embrace cost-saving measures. It’s no easy task to put out an engaging newspaper week after week, especially when you’re working with fewer resources than you had a year ago. But there are hundreds—even thousands—of lean-and-mean community papers doing just that.
Faced with decreasing resources, many papers are turning to outside sources for content, including public relations agencies and trusted article-placement services. Make no mistake: These papers aren’t just looking for tired pitches and bland offerings. They want compelling content to entertain, educate and retain their readers. This is where PR practitioners can deliver valuable story ideas and content, while getting the word out about their clients’ key brand messages.

â–¶ Complement the local focus. Studies continue to validate what we all know to be true: Consumers turn to community papers because of their hyper-local focus. According to the Suburban Newspapers of America’s (SNA) Suburban Market Study conducted by the University of Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute, suburban newspapers continue to be the No. 1 source for community news, surpassing metro newspapers, television, radio and the Internet.
 Given the focus on local, try to make sure your article (or pitch) is relevant to the community papers’ core readers. Sometimes there just may not be a fit. But if there is, your brand messages will find a highly receptive audience. For example, education news is among the most highly read topics in community papers.
â–¶ Go online locally. Don’t underestimate the value of a placement on a community newspaper’s Web site. The NNA reports that among people who go online for local news, 63% visit their local newspaper Web site—five times more than those who go to a local TV station.

Beyond readership, community papers offer excellent online distribution to boost your SEO results. An effective backlink strategy can deliver links from community newspaper sites that point back to your clients’ Web sites and landing pages.

After consulting with your clients to find the keywords they’re optimizing via search, be sure to include these as links or anchor text within a branded article. More online placements equate to more backlinks, increasing the odds your clients’ Web sites will see a lift in search rankings for those keywords.

Following these four steps is a good start toward tapping the potential of community newspapers. You may find that a combination of two or three of these ideas may have the most impact. Or, an emphasis on local or online may lead to a breakthrough.

The larger message is to look for opportunity in paths that may seem counterintuitive. While many are down on newspapers as a whole, it’s heartening to see a segment of the industry that is bucking the trend—and without much fanfare. This under-the-radar approach suits the community papers just fine and it can serve your PR efforts as well.  PRN

This article was written by David Olson, VP of ARAnet. He can be reached at