Research in action – local newspaper readership

Published by: Annette White


INM Regionals are one of the leading publishers of local newspapers in the country with thirteen titles across Cork, Kerry, Louth, Wexford, Wicklow, Carlow, Sligo and north County Dublin. It is imperative that INM Regionals know their consumers – what is changing in their lives and how this impacts on their purchase and readership of weekly local newspapers.

The group wanted to get information on readership habits and purchase patterns and on the changing face of local information sources, including competition from online sources and other paid for and free papers. They also wanted to use research to assist in the development and evolution of content.

To help answer these questions, RED C conducted a number of comprehensive studies involving both qualitative and quantitative research across each of INM Regionals operations.

One of the fundamental insights made by the research was the differences within regions with regards to both competitive make up of each area and the variety in titles and competitors. This truly wasn’t a one size fits all. Yes there are definite commonalities and the key reason for readership remains broadly similar in each area, but the need for a localised strategy remained.

A further benefit of the research was the ability to use the results for PR and advertising purposes. INM Regionals could develop individual taglines for each title such as the Carlow People which features the tagline ‘The highest and most frequent readership’ to the Dundalk Argus which features the tagline, ‘Three out of four people prefer the Argus’.

The research and its publication also provided reassurance to advertisers that money spent with INM Regionals was a solid investment in their businesses. INM Regionals were able to use the information generated to counter competitor claims and the independence and depth of the research meant that the competitors, while unhappy, could not reject results.

In addition to positioning strategies, research assisted in the development and renewal of content within each local paper. This was crucial as it aided newspaper development and allowed INM Regionals to uncover areas that were no longer of vital interest to their catchment – allowing the organisation to devote resources and attention to key performance areas.

However, there was also a need to delve further into the regional audiences, and go a little deeper than the quantitative research allowed. This is where qualitative research proved crucial. Having measured the regions through quantitative eyes the organisation they found the need to dig a little deeper, to understand a little more.

The benefit of the mixed method meant that the qualitative research could focus on groups of interest – for example lapsed or less frequent readers, those who had traded down to buying one title where previously they would have bought two or more, those who began using free titles as an alternative to paid and those who stopped buying local newspapers altogether.

Through use of a range of pre-group activities and in-group projective techniques qualitative research uncovered deep-seated attitudes and impressions of the titles in question.

It allowed INM Regionals to understand why the purchase behaviour of residents in the catchment changed – whether it was simply a case of having to cut back some other factor. On the other hand, it provided an understanding of loyalty towards the papers – what was loved and relied upon by buyers. Qualitative research uncovered brand personalities and reader needs allowing INM Regionals to better meet readers’ emotional and rational requirements.

One key finding of the qualitative projects conducted to date is that regional newspapers are still very much desired and coveted. Few other publications get the privilege of having pride of place in people’s homes for an entire week. While online has grown, the physicality of the newspaper and the readership experience can’t be replicated online – it is an emotional connection. This finding in itself drives INM Regionals to adapt and develop and has highlighted the benefit of utilising both qualitative and quantitative research in tandem.

The research reports for these projects have resulted in a range of changes by INM Regionals in different areas. Crucially the strategy has been varied across the different operational bases – based on the research and the competitive mix. There have been definite commonalities across the areas, but also key differences. The research has given INM Regionals deeper insight into their evolving markets.