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Regional newspapers still ‘avid’ bill writers, ex-editor finds

Regional newspapers are still “avid” advocates of traditional bills, according to new research by a former editor.

Journalism trainer Peter Sands, a previous editor of the Northern Echo, has conducted a mini-survey of regional press editors to find out whether they still use bills as part of their day-to-day operations.

Of those interviewed, Peter found that only one newspaper had ceased using them altogether, although some had scaled back on their use recently.

His findings were presented in a piece for In Publishing.

A memorable bill produced by the Welwyn and Hatfield Times in 2009

A memorable bill produced by the Welwyn and Hatfield Times in 2009

Among those he spoke to were the editors of the Yorkshire Post, Northern Echo, Hull Daily Mail, South Wales Evening Post, Sunday Post, the Evening Telegraph in Dundee and the Liverpool Echo.

Of those quizzed, he found only the Oxford Mail had ceased publishing bills altogether.

Neil Hodgkinson, editor of the Hull Daily Mail, told Peter: “The ‘A-Board’ is still the best way to promote your wares outside a newsagent or shop. More importantly, it gives you strong presence in your communities.

“It reminds people you are still there. Not being there and you run the risk of unconsciously suggesting that you no longer care, or have given up.

“As the number of casual sales readers grows year by year, the bill is still a key way to catch the eye, alongside the front page headlines and promotional blurbs.

“Whether or not it increases sale is no doubt open to debate but they certainly can’t do any harm and, for a minimal production cost in the greater scheme of things, why run the risk of not doing them?”

Liverpool Echo editor Alastair Machray told Peter his newspaper had scaled back on the use of bills.

He said: “They have a cost attached as you need an operative to put them up. So the cost challenges mean we don’t plaster everywhere any more.

“It is almost impossible to break a story in print. Even if you ring-fence and jealously guard an exclusive, it is picked up and distributed via social media minutes after the first copy is off the press and long before it arrives in the newsagent.”

Peter found weekly editors in particular to be “avid” bill writers.

Lisa Templeton, editor of the North Devon Journal, said: “We have a large patch comprising readers who focus on patch-local issues and bills are an excellent way of highlighting these and tempting readers to pick up the paper.

“We have many more casual buyers these days and so bills along with front pages are essential.”

David Bourn, editorial director at Scottish Provincial Press, added: “Editors work closely with the newspaper sales people to ensure every retailer has a bill pertinent to their locale.

“We use them as part of a package of digital and non-digital marketing tools not just in isolation. They have to be good though and tease people into wanting more.”


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  • September 30, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    It’s a fine art though, as anyone who ever went on the Peter Sands workshop will agree. I recently spotted …

    set for

    (nearly as good as the

    Man of

    two-deck headline about a hairdresser, which Pete has made legend!)

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  • September 30, 2015 at 6:24 pm

    I’m sure the Welwyn & Hatfield Times is delighted to see this six-year-old embarrassment making a reappearance…

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  • October 15, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    I recall how, 30 years ago, I was at a meeting of district reporters where our circulation manager declared: “I don’t believe news bills sell papers.”
    Not surprisingly, the title closed a few months later!

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