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Local newspapers 'should set up PR agencies'

Newspapers running their own PR agencies and offering web consultancy services to advertisers were today suggested as potential future sources of revenue for the local press.

Trinity Mirror Regionals editorial director Neil Benson said that, with old revenues “disintegrating before our eyes”, it was not yet clear where the next “pots of gold” would come from.

Among the ideas he put forward was for publishers to launch their own PR companies and to offer paid-for services such as search engine optimisation.

Mr Benson was speaking at the ‘New Platforms – New Revenues’ session at today’s Society of Editors conference debating the future of local and national news providers.

He told delegates: “Some of the answers are quite close to home. Most PR output ends up in the bin but some of the best PR firms are run by ex-editors or senior editorial managers.

“Why don’t all regional publishers launch arm’s-length PR agencies? Clearly, there’s an issue about separation from our core business but there’s a way to do it and maintain editorial integrity.”

Mr Benson went on to suggest launching paid-for services such as search engine optimisation on behalf of clients to enable more hits for advertisers’ websites and possibly boost revenue for them.

“We need to move quickly because someone else will do it if we don’t so we have to get there first,” he said.

Mr Benson also cited government ad campaigns such as the NHS Chnage4Life healthy eating drive as a source of revenue for local papers.

Trinity Mirror titles have used the campaign to run editorial which has been localised by individual papers with local case studies making it more relevant than just a generic nationwide campaign.

He also highlighted the example of Northumberland County Council teaming up with Newcastle daily The Journal to launch and run 20 hyperlocal news websites – a contract “worth six figures” to Journal owners Trinity Mirror.

Mr Benson revealed that a similar council/newspaper publisher tie-up is due to be announced within the next three months.

The session was closed by delegates revealing what they thought publishers should continue pursuing in terms of worthwhile revenue generating initiatives and what should be ditched.

Mr Benson espoused the virtues of videos, quoting YouTube as the perfect example of a great product, but this was countered by director of ‘Huge Entertainment’ Morgan Holt who referred to website videos as “donkeys”.


Mr_Osato (16/11/2009 14:12:58)
I’d rather sell the Big Issue than work for a newspaper that was also a PR agency. Anyone else?

Matt (16/11/2009 14:22:10)
I have rarely heard a more ludicrous and unworkable idea.

hacker (16/11/2009 15:23:11)
Barmy idea. PR agencies try to deaden news stories to protect their clients. So how could a newspaper have a PR agency? You would have one arm of the organisation trying to do something and another arm trying to stop it. Utter lunacy.

lensman (16/11/2009 15:29:55)
No doubt yet another task hard pressed reporters and photogs are supposed to take on, along with producing endless ad supplements,baby of the year competitons, first day at school pix spreads. Bet they won’t get paid PR agency rates though!

Dominic (16/11/2009 15:55:40)
It’s the sort of narrowminded attitude on display in these comments which is preventing newsrooms from evolving. What if these PR companies were run in a different part of the company, a bit like newspaper companies run events teams or dating websites, which then in turn help keep newspapers going? Or shall we all just be sniffy about PR?

Bluestringer (16/11/2009 16:31:06)
Dear Dominic.
You see newsrooms “evolving” into Public Relations agencies?
Does the phrase “He who pays the piper calls the tune” mean anything to you?
I think readers still, perhaps foolishly, expect some last vestige of journalistic integrity from their local newspapers.
It’s illuminating that Neil Benson, the regional EDITORIAL director, has got so far down in the Trinity bunker that all he can talk about is “advertising platforms” and “revenue streams.”
But maybe I’m just being “sniffy.”

james (16/11/2009 16:35:05)
I can see where you’re coming from Dominic, but really this is a non-starter. The integrity of any paper which had its own PR wing would be fatally compromised. Surely you can see that?

Steve (16/11/2009 21:59:04)
Which corporate body in its right mind would want a newspaper company to handle its PR? Corporates employ PR firms to manage the newsflow -clients would not trust chinese walls in a newspaper business!!!

Dominic (17/11/2009 02:01:57)
Bluestringer, if you read what I said you’d see I was stating the idea might work if it was detached from the newsroom. Yes, I’ve heard that piper plays the tune etc – but it’s been ever thus with ad departments as it is. There are loads of PR firms vying to get content into print, so why not have a division of the company that was making money from that? All I’m saying is that it must be worth considering

Interested Observer (17/11/2009 07:44:10)
Most of the comments here highlight one of the main reasons regional press is in the mess it’s in today. These days any business that fails to constantly re-invent itself and seek new revenue streams by diversification is doomed to failure. Of course you can maintain core product values whilst making good use of existing skills and technology – it’s called branding. Open your minds guys and you might just save a few of your colleagues jobs!

Michael (17/11/2009 09:07:44)
I think this sounds like a greast idea. I could write my own badly-worded press releases (with several bits of key information missing, of course), email them to myself, curse whoever wrote the release for missing out all the main points then phone myself to double-check everything. See, nothing has to change really!

Andrew (17/11/2009 09:14:11)
There’s more to PR than press releases and getting articles into papers. Maybe local newspaper editors should focus on what local newspapers are good at – proper voices for their local communities

Ex-JP (17/11/2009 09:21:26)
Dominic has a very valid point. If the ‘pr agency’ part of the company was in another part of the building it would no more compromise editorial integrity than an ad department. And how many ad departments push through press releases in order to get revenue from the client.
If all the ‘agency’ is doing is writing a press release for use in the newspaper, what harm is there? Mind you other local media outlets might balk at using it. It’ll be interesting to see if anybody attempts it.
But the bottom line remains: WTF has happened tou our industry?

Mike (17/11/2009 10:04:43)
Mr Benson clearly has no idea what a PR agency is all about. He obviously thinks it’s just a place that generates press releases

Confused (17/11/2009 12:50:15)
I’ve no objection to companies finding ways of making money, but a couple of things about this idea baffles me: 1) What kind of pressure would newsrooms come under to give preferential treatment to “in-house” PR releases and more importantly 2) How would it protect newspapers and/or editorial jobs, especially if it was genuinely “arms length”? Even if it was a huge success is anyone SERIOUSLY suggesting TM would let successful PR divisions prop up ailing papers instead of keeping cutting back the hacks and pocket the extra profits?

Bluestringer (17/11/2009 13:13:43)
If you’re of the opinion that the reason the newspaper trade is “in the mess it is today” is because of troublesome journalists balking at the idea of becoming nothing more than an add on to the sales department, then you’re too late.
Many MDs think that’s what we’re for anyway.
The only hope is that once local papers have become so pitiful no one bothers to read them or advertise in them any more, a few entrepreneurial editors might see their chance and invest their
redundancy money into starting up their own title.
Well. I can dream, can’t I?

JournoPR all rounder (17/11/2009 13:34:57)
One Kent newspaper group actually did start its own PR agency about 10-15 years ago, so the idea is not a new one. It lasted for quite a few years and may even have been profitable for the company. Good thought the journalists were at writing press releases, they didn’t necessarily have the right experience to create communications strategies for their clients, design and create brochures nor proplery understand anything remotely technical – Old hacks baffled too easily! From a publicist’s point of view, it’s worrying to think that the usually better salaries paid to PR people could be undermined by local newspaper journos paid a pittance.

TrinityMirrorHack (17/11/2009 14:01:45)
All I want to say is: Nick Davies, Flat Earth News, here we come…

JP Worker (18/11/2009 09:17:12)
I think the “oh, you’re just opposed to change – stop holding us back” line is a convenient and blinkered way for MDs to shut themselves off.
Most reporters worth their salt accept changes are needed to keep papers afloat. But changes need to be done with proper long-term investment and support. Just throwing more and more duties (for no extra pay) to a reporter is not being revolutionary and combatting the problem, it’s making things worse.