Millions of pounds are spent every year on official notices buried in the back pages of newspapers to ‘keep the public informed’, with the above example being pure white space paid for by the Welsh Government.
With print readerships declining we have written previously about the local cost of such public notices and have seen some changes by Wrexham Council to make more efficient use of paper based adverts.
Due to archaic laws, (perhaps not updated as those who decide such things do not want to upset the media), such notices are often required as part of a defined legal process. Often such processes were enshrined in law before the internet existed, and made more sense in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
Back in mid March we were sat enjoying a coffee and had a rare flick to the back pages of the Leader and Daily Post. There we saw public notices from Welsh Ministers over works to the A494, A55 and one about the A483 with whacking great white spaces by the sides.
Being fans of Neil Buchanan’s work on Art Attack we whipped out the scissors and visually worked out that if the white space was used creatively, half a new notice could have been produced – with each notice in our experience at looking at invoices for such advertising often costing several hundred pounds of your money. This example is not a one off, with several more published since this article was drafted earlier in the year.
Back in 2014 after we highlighted the local council’s spending on statutory notices, with Wrexham Council specifically telling us they had trimmed white space, noting: “The council has put in significant work in recent months to lower costs, such as reducing white space.”
This has been backed up with action, as the notices placed by the council are now more compact and use space better and therefore more cost efficient, even though we think they are a terrible way of communicating things.
In January this year we highlighted how despite being paid via a Statutory Notices to spread the information it took 13 days for information relevant to the people of Wrexham to make its way from the back to the front page when there was local resurfacing on the A483 – a great example of although the law is followed, the reason behind the law is missed and the people the information is meant for misses out. Previously we have run stories discovered via such notices, to then see the story appear in the paper the following week, despite them being paid to promote it in the first place.
UK Government have looked at changing how to bring Statutory Notices into the modern era, and as with all good consultations it was published two days before Christmas in 2014. £1m worth of pilot schemes outside of Wales was conducted in 2015, with the firm policy outcomes not yet known, and the status quo maintained in the meantime.
Elsewhere Northumberland County Council moved their public notice spend to a different publisher, from the Hexham Courant (circ. 11,000) to the Northumberland Gazette (circ. 6,700) which is around 40 miles away. This move was described by the Courant’s editor as ‘robbing this newspaper of income‘, pointing out the legal obligations for their Local Authority plus how they believe the move was politically motivated. As always the comments on industry website HoldTheFrontPage.co.uk are well worth a read, including the observation that those who have democracy and information at heart would perhaps be happy to do such things for free.
Recently it was announced that a volunteer run newspaper in Hastings beat the legacy newspaper to providing local notices, with a circulation of just 7,500.
We asked local AM Lesley Griffiths about the white space spend and her wider views on statutory notices. She told us: “Although statutory notices are an important process for ensuring the public is kept informed of local decisions, technology has advanced and the way we consume information has drastically changed.
“News sites like Wrexham.com can certainly offer new opportunities and it is unfair they are penalised by outdated laws.
“New options which could help improve visibility and reduce costs in a sustainable manner should be explored, and have made representations to the relevant Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary, Mark Drakeford AM.”
The letter was responded to by Ken Skates AM, as our example noted a road traffic notice and it is part of his portfolio. Mr Skates noted a previous review took place at some point in 2012 (Wrexham.com started mid way through that year) and would be asking for the review to be revisited:
In May we spoke with Golley Slater over Loteri Cymru promotions in North Wales, and the Wrexham audience specifically.
We were told their promotions for that project ‘was not based on any readership figures’ and said promotion was only via ‘the mainstream titles and not Wrexham.com’. The mainstream titles in question covering Wrexham were the Daily Post and the Leader.
As noted by the Cabinet Secretary, Golley Slater’s ‘advice’ is taken by Welsh Government over placing of advertising, although Golley Slater told us information on titles is sourced via Gorkana – and thus is likely several years out of date for Wrexham.com let alone any other title.
Golley Slater, like the disappointing majority of PR companies we speak with, have not requested details of any analytics or measurements for Wrexham.com or our various social media ‘channels’.
On the white space picture above, we popped the image on twitter offering a free coffee for anyone who could guess what it was. The single tweet was seen via twitter.com systems 8,578 times, with 1,629 total engagements, plus more when it was visible on the non-twitter.com measured embed system on Wrexham.com. Some of the guesses are below…
— Nick Holland (@nickholland75) March 20, 2017
— Learn to Drive (@MurrayBren77) March 20, 2017
@wrexham plans of how to sort the traffic on the 483 that wxm council have just paid you millions as consultants to come up with😉
— nick bell (@jn13ell) March 20, 2017
— Tim Ryan (@Tjr9696) March 21, 2017
— Sueperb (@MrBumble38) March 20, 2017
— Christian Bullock (@blueponyrider) March 20, 2017
(This article was initially drafted earlier in the year, but dropped down the publish pile due to a flurry of elections)