Board meeting most important in years

Past President Sean MurrayÔÇÖs promise to members that CCNA would have a ÔÇÿbias for actionÔÇÖ has come home to roost.

As a result of one of the associationÔÇÖs most intensive periods of development, the board of directors faces an agenda for its November meeting packed with massive reports and critical decision making.

High on the list is the final proposal to launch the industryÔÇÖs ambitious readership study, ComBase, on a national basis early in 2002. The pilot version of the study is currently in the field in five cities, including Toronto. ComBase Project Manager Elena Dunn has been putting the finishing touches on a complex business plan for the new agency under the guidance of the Research Task Force chaired by CCNA vice president Jim Cumming.

According to Cumming, costing and pricing ComBase is a formidable challenge because of the complexities of dealing with 680 newspapers clustered in hundreds of markets.

ÔÇ£Some of the biggest challenges come from the fact that we have so many papers in isolated markets and that tends to drive the cost up because the developmental work to determine those markets is very expensive,ÔÇØ said Cumming. ÔÇ£In an urban centre, you will often have many competing newspapers and you are only having to develop that market once.

ÔÇ£Part of our challenge then is developing regional markets in order to achieve some economies of scale. Nothing like this has ever been done before ÔÇô not even anywhere in the world that we know of,ÔÇØ he said.

The presentation to the November board meeting caps more than one year of feverish preparation, research, testing and consultation. Once approved by CCNA, an independent industry board of directors operating a wholly owned subsidiary of the association will manage ComBase.

Industry research isnÔÇÖt the only major initiative on the agenda. The board will also receive a presentation from the Industry Promotion Working Group (IPWG) on a plan to create a single brand and positioning statement for the community newspaper sector. The IPWG is a joint body make up of regional association executive directors and CCNA board members. Earlier this year the industry body hired strategic marketing firm BrandEdge to research, develop and test a branding approach. The aim is to help create a single, unified identity that will communicate to national and local advertisers, readers and potential readers, governments at all levels and current or future staff.

Chair of IPWG is Paul MacNeill, a CCNA director and president of the Atlantic Community Newspapers Association.

According to MacNeill it is a ÔÇÿsignificant taskÔÇÖ to re-brand the community newspaper industry. ÔÇ£What you have is 683 individual brands and for the first time, we are trying to define who we are collectively and that is significant,ÔÇØ he said. ÔÇ£To develop a brand to somehow catch what we are and what are strengths are ÔÇô it may sound easy on paper, but itÔÇÖs not a task that is easy and itÔÇÖs going to take time.ÔÇØ

Despite the hurdles, MacNeill said the challenge is worth rising to. ÔÇ£ItÔÇÖs very important because we have let others define who we are in the past ÔÇô dailies and the like,ÔÇØ he said. ÔÇ£What we are saying for the first time is that we are going to define who we are and we are going to tell people proudly what we are, what a great story we have and what a great medium we are, collectively.ÔÇØ

Concerns with government, and its impact on the community newspaper sector, will be addressed in a special five-hour session during the first day of the two-day board meeting. Government relations firm Earnscliffe Strategy Group will lead the board in a planning session designed to identify and prioritize the most important issues facing the industry at this time. Earnscliffe will also give an overview of the government decision-making process and will give an analysis of the current mood in Ottawa in the post-Sept. 11