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The CEO of Johnston Press told an industry conference today that regional newspaper companies need to broaden their remit beyond news and become 'community media businesses' to prosper in the future.

Speaking at World Association of Newspapers congress in Göteborg, Sweden, Tim Bowdler said that 'significant cultural change' was needed inside regional newspaper organisations to realign them to offer a range of services in addition to news.

Bowdler said the media landscape was shifting in a manner that made change 'ubiquitous'.

"It is an irreversible tide that means, wherever situated in the world, everyone will be required to act," he said.

To these 'structural challenges' he added that Johnson Press was suffering from a cyclical advertising downturn that had led to a 7 per cent reduction in advertising revenue this year compared to last - even though it declared a 30 per cent profit margin on turnover of £600 million.

This led to a reduced share price, a rights issue and a sell off of 20 per cent of the company to a foreign investor to place the business back on an even footing.

In his presentation to the congress he went on to outline the future he saw for regional news publishers.

"The outcome will be an organisation that puts the consumer and the customer first, ahead of a reliance on any one media channel," he said.

That development would require a more sophisticated understanding of reader and advertiser behaviour, he said, so that additional revenue creating services like specifically tailored holiday or insurance could be offered to consumers.

He also suggested that regional newspapers could act as a marketing consultancy to assist local advertisers with campaigns, even across third party titles.

"Our objectives should be to move towards the position of a more sophisticated level of local advertising service… This might even mean acting as marketing service advisers to local businesses, facilitating third party media transactions on their behalf."

However, the development of additional services would not detract from the core focus of both digital and printed news production, he said, although he added that newspapers would increasingly be given away for free as digital news and information channels grew.

"The critical step is set around the improvement of our customer knowledge in terms of audience and our advertisers by establishing a deeper understanding of their interests and requirements," he said.

"The resulting rich database will give us the insight to improve our publications to target our audiences better to build new products and offerings, all building on the strength of our newspaper trusted brands.

"The result will be to increase the range and frequency of contacts we have with existing readers and to reach new audience and online users.

"By introducing relevant and tailored offerings we will have the opportunity to develop transaction relationships with our audience.

“An example of this might be found in a better understanding in the needs of our readers through deeper relationships with them to provide extended offerings such as specifically designed holidays or even insurance services.

"Fundamental to this transition is the need for the organisation to change from a collective mindset of being product and process focused to one that is customer centric. Putting the consumer at the very heart of our organisations and designing our operation processes accordingly."

Highlights from Bowdler's speech here:

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