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Loving Local

The Newspaper Society recently undertook a major research project looking into the importance of community. Robert Ray summarises its main findings.

By Robert Ray

The past three years has been a period of major upheaval in Britain. We have been through one of the worst recessions this nation has ever seen with dramatic consequences for businesses large and small across the nation. A coalition government has been formed and embarked upon a programme of public spending cuts designed to rebalance Britain’s books and reduce the deficit.

These events, in combination with other factors such as the rise in social media, have resulted in changes to the way people live their lives, how they communicate with one another, and how they use different media. Loving Local is a major independent research study looking at the importance of community and asking whether it has been affected by these events. It also looks at how local media, local newspapers and their companion websites, fits into this picture and what the implications are for advertisers.

Following a three-way pitch, Crowd DNA was appointed to conduct the research. The brief for the project included updating some of the key findings from some of the Newspaper Society’s previous work in this area, in particular the Local Matters project (NS/Millward Brown 2008). This allowed us to make valuable comparisons with data gathered before the recession struck.

Fieldwork was carried out over March and April. This consisted of telephone and online interviews with 4,971 adults in 12 British regions. Voxpops were filmed in four locations – Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds and Kent.

A striking fact which emerged from the research was that community has become more important to people since the recession. Eighty-one per cent of respondents agreed with the statement that the recession has made supporting the local community more important. This is surprising when you consider that, in post recession Britain, people will generally have less disposable income to put into community projects, groups and organisations. Clearly, community is viewed by many people as extremely important and worthy of support even in hard times.

Local media is by far the most effective media source for helping people to integrate with their local surroundings. The study found that local media (73 per cent) is the most relevant media source for feeling part of the community ahead of the internet (22 per cent), TV (11 per cent) and national newspapers (five per cent). And local media (45 per cent) continues to be the most trusted source of content, ahead of television (37 per cent), national newspapers (33 per cent) and the internet (32 per cent). Crucially for advertisers, a high number (60 per cent) of people act upon the ads within local media.

The survey produced more evidence to support the theory of community becoming more important in hard times. A higher number of people said they knew a lot of people in their area than when Local Matters was published in 2008. Community integration also saw a steep rise, from 63 per cent to 74 per cent, over the three years. Eighty-two per cent of respondents said they were proud of their area compared to 71 per cent in 2008. Community pride was also on the rise, increasing by 11 percentage points over three years.

The increased importance of local has a real impact upon where people choose to spend their time and money, and how they perceive brands. Loving Local found that 80 per cent of people spend half or more of their time within five miles of home and 76 per cent of people spend half or more of their money within five miles of home. Ninety-three per cent of respondents like companies that involve themselves in the local community and 84 per cent said they were more likely to buy brands that give something back to the community. The message to businesses is clear – people value community even more highly than they used to and will consequently be more willing to engage with brands that get involved at a local level.

The study provides an important barometer for publishers and advertisers because it gives a glimpse of how people view the world around them in 2011. Ironically in an era of increasing globalisation, local community has become more important than ever before with survey respondents placing high value upon it. Local pride and goodwill has increased despite significant adversity.

Local media publishers have faced tough challenges in recent years but they can take heart from the findings of Loving Local. The study shows that local media remains highly relevant in the modern world and its unique engagement with audiences across print and digital platforms continues to deliver significant levels of action on advertising.