I don’t like free newspapers!

by Graham Dodd on 21/08/2012

In the last 20 years or more, I have probably completed thousands of door drop presentations.

Conferences, seminars, in-house agency or client training sessions, new business pitches or one to one sessions across a desk.

When I mention free newspapers, I glance quickly around the room at my audience.

Sometimes peoples’ faces visibly distort, they start shaking their heads and in more intimate situations, you can hear people take a sharp intake of air!

People don’t like free newspapers.

Is that really true?

If it is, why do so many national advertisers continue to extensively use the option – is it because they enjoy wasting their marketing budget?

I don’t think so.

I love asking the head shakers why.

Over the years I’ve heard some great reasoning.

When Sales Promotion Managers commonly existed at f.m.c.g. companies, one highly respected industry figure who sat on a trade body’s Board of Directors at the time, told me that “he remembered what his sons used to do with the leaflets” – but even then, he was recounting something that had allegedly happened 15 years earlier!

And that stopped him from testing the medium! Unbelievable.

Reliability is though a common issue for many people.

Other people believe nobody reads the free titles or even looks inside them.

That leaflets are always inserted within the newspaper.

And doubts about the cultural match to the client’s brand, product or service are always high on the list of reasons for rejection.

They are all valid points – to a degree.

But I think there are occasions where personal preferences or misgivings result in marketers missing out on a medium that has much to offer.

Sure, recession is taking its toll.

Newspaper circulation volumes have tumbled spectacularly in recent years, leaving whole towns without a free title and certainly whole postal sectors are now blanked out. And coverage within many sectors has also taken a fall in many areas.

But free newspapers still offer a viable, reliable and accountable option and marketers would do well to re-visit the opportunities free newspapers provide.

I’ve said in other blogs and commentaries that door drops are not a perfect science and are not without their quality issues, but free newspapers are arguably one of the better options?

You can currently drop to 214,000 households in Nottingham.

But how many people realise that such an immense volume is delivered by an army of people probably in excess of 1,000, all operating to bespoke units of perhaps no more than 200 households?

It may well be that some of the distributors do not complete the drop properly, or at all, but there is a stringent control process which ensures all distributors are checked on a regular, structured basis and villains are quickly weeded out.

Anyone buying into leaflet distribution via a free newspaper is buying into a process which is checked pretty much every week of the year.

The distribution units are the smallest in the industry, so the level of risk is minimised.

Don’t forget, the free newspaper is the publisher’s own product and its in their own best interests to make sure delivery is as efficient as possible, with long term independent validation showing free newspapers and Royal Mail perform to very similar standards.

Despite the best efforts of publishers to encourage distributors to place promotional material in the “loose folds” as the tabloids are pushed through letterboxes, some will be inserted there is no doubt, because it makes that very process easier.

But some clients are not bothered about that – predictably those who are also insert users.

Others are, and to be honest it is an issue that I would like to see publishers be more proactive about.

But does insertion go hand in hand with readership levels?

There is anecdotal evidence that free newspaper readership has increased in recent years.

There are claims that this has been triggered by a fall in weekly local paid for’s circulation levels with consumers getting their local news fix through the frees?

If that is true and readership levels are up, then people will see leaflets even if they are inserted?

Perhaps readership levels are something else publishers could be pro active about and produce useful data to support the theory?

And then there is the fascinating question of the cultural match.

If ever there was a time and a reason for client doubters to look at our SMART-Drop service, then this could be it.

Having established a target market profile, we can analyse free newspaper distribution structures – these rounds of 150-200 households – and select just those with a high match.

So if you have an upmarket profile and are looking to cover Walton & Weybridge why rule free newspapers out? It would be reasonable to say that St. George’s Hill is unlikely to be covered, but I’d wager a good match of coverage versus target market.

And don’t forget; with rates starting from around 1.5p per household, free newspapers are a relatively cheap option to test.

It might not work of course and even if it does not, it might not be the fault of the free newspapers.

There are a myriad of reasons why door drops don’t work for some clients, but with free newspapers you don’t necessarily have to spend a huge amount of money in finding out.

And is not that better than surmising the medium won’t work for you based upon your personal beliefs and preferences?

I become highly irritated when it’s assumed “everyone” could not wait for X Factor or Jonathan Ross to return to our TV screens and I become equally irritated when clients rule out free newspapers as an option, when they don’t really know whether the medium would work or not.

Its unlikely that the national free newspaper network is ever going to provide many clients with a standalone door drop solution, but perhaps sitting alongside a Royal Mail door to door proposition, highly targeted at round level and/or even at postal sector level where appropriate, it must be worthy of consideration?

Why would you not consider it?

This article was written by...

– who has written 32 posts on Letterbox Consultancy for Door Drop Marketing.

Graham Dodd is the founder of The Letterbox Consultancy - he has over 40 years of experience in the door drop industry and remains at the forefront of innovation in the business.

Contact the author

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: