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JICREG: the challenges ahead

On 1st August this year, Keith Donaldson will take over from Roger Holland as chief executive of the Joint Industry Committee for Regional Media Research (JICREG). Here, Keith looks at what his priorities are likely to be.

By Keith Donaldson

Over the last 20 years, JICREG has provided a credible and well-respected audience currency for local newspapers and, in recent years, their companion websites. Maintaining this credibility has been achieved by continuing to keep JICREG independent as a joint industry currency with equal input from advertisers, agencies and publishers. It is extremely important for these key stakeholders to continue to have confidence in the quality of the JICREG survey which provides the foundations of its audience data.

JICREG is known for the gold standard quality of its data and these high standards must be maintained in order to continue to inspire confidence in those who use it as a currency for planning and trading space in local media. Through the launch of Locally Connected, JICREG became the first media industry currency to measure unduplicated audiences across local newspapers and their websites. This was a necessary and important step for the currency to take as online local media expanded rapidly, presenting opportunities for advertisers to connect in different ways with local media audiences.

These audiences will continue to grow as publishers keep investing in new digital platforms such as mobile and tablets and local media becomes a multimedia platform with print at its heart. This development presents an opportunity for JICREG to lead the way in ensuring that the value of local media in the digital age is properly and accurately measured. Emerging digital platforms must be incorporated into a reliable and stable overall readership score. This is the most obvious challenge faced by JICREG although Locally Connected has gone a long way towards giving a clearer, more complete, picture of local media’s reach in a digital age.

A similar challenge is also posed by changing print distribution models. Print remains at the heart of local media’s trusted proposition and some local newspapers have changed their distribution models to meet the changing needs of their audiences. An example of this is the part paid-for, part free model which has been successfully adopted by some local titles. This again creates challenges for measurement and incorporating accurate audience data into the JICREG database.

Opportunities exist for greater cooperation with other industry currencies in terms of development work. Incorporating digital audiences into a stable currency is a challenge faced by other media and we can all benefit from shared experience. For example, the National Readership Survey (NRS) is carrying out work in combining readership and online audiences using NRS and UKOM. Looking at their progress could help with our own cross-platform measurement.

A challenge for all researchers including JICREG is the increasing cost of conducting research. Going forward, JICREG will need to continue to demonstrate clearly to publishers that paying for JICREG’s research is a crucial investment for the future of their businesses. Local media’s greater reliance upon display advertising in recent times means that JICREG has become even more important in demonstrating value to advertisers.

Local newspapers are read by 76 per cent of the UK population and reach for local newspapers within their circulation area is usually higher than for any national title. The content of local media is unique and there is still an enormous appetite for local news and information. The challenges and opportunities for JICREG are to demonstrate how local media continues to meet this demand as the industry evolves across burgeoning digital platforms, and to continue to provide robust and credible data which is seen as the gold standard of audience measurement.