Continuing in the second of a series of blogs which explores the future of public notices in Wales. The first blog discussed ‘does anyone read public notice adverts in newspapers?’
In this blog, Alastair Blair, from the Potent Mix, discussed the impact of public notices.
In the last blog I posed the general question, ‘does anyone read public notice adverts in newspapers?’. As newspaper circulations and their associated readerships decline, it follows that fewer people are able to see statutory public notices published within their local weekly. But, were they reading them anyway? What does the available hard evidence suggest? As noted before, most of the work on this has been done in Scotland, but it has huge implications for Wales and the rest of the UK as it’s very unlikely that the conclusions apply only north of border.
I was employed by the Improvement Service (IS) to assist with the development of the new business case for COSLA to put to Holyrood to change the law in Scotland. I wrote the first draft of this paper which was based on extensive research carried out by the IS and thePotentMix.
Information relating to the number of people who actually read public notice advertisements within the local press is sparse. Research on the effectiveness of general local media advertising was undertaken by the Newspaper Society in 2011 (Living Local) but this grouped public notice advertisements alongside general advertising and did not look at whether public notices specifically are widely read. A study was carried out in 2007 in Camden by the Cabinet Office (‘Informing the public in a multi media age’) suggested that only 1.4% of the population sourced/read notices in the local press. In addition, a number of small scale surveys have also been carried out by various local publishers, however, their statistical validity and applicability to the wider population are questionable given the relatively small sample sizes used and the fact that samples were usually taken from within newspapers’ existing readership panels and thus unlikely to be representative of the general public (in other words, the sample was of people who were already engaging with the paper).
As part of the Scottish research, we asked a sample of Councils, consisting of two cities (Glasgow, Dundee) and a more rural area (East Ayrshire) to monitor the response to their public notice advertising. The evidence is compelling: in Glasgow, for a month the Planning Department asked everyone who came to their office regarding a planning application what had caused them to do so. Only 6% of those came in as a result of an advert. In contrast, 48% came as a result of ‘Neighbourhood Notification’; that is the notices that are posted (by statutory requirement) to neighbours who might be affected by a planning application/development.
Similarly, Dundee City monitored calls to its Call Centre for over 8 weeks: not one was about a public notice advert. East Ayrshire, monitoring Roads notices, only had one response about an advert in a month. We also had anecdotal evidence from a number of other Councils which supported these more precise studies.
In Wales, there is no such research that I am aware of, but I do know that, anecdotally, Wrexham County Borough Council’s Planning Department cannot recall the last time (in years) anyone responded to one of their advertisements.
Part of the problem may be that these adverts are not easy to read. Whilst there is much anecdotal evidence which would suggest that the current style, type, point size and in particular language which is used in public notice advertisements are neither ‘user friendly’ nor accessible to those without a planning or legal background, there is at present no empirical evidence to support these claims. However, it is my experience from training Councils across the UK in public notice advertising content that even their own staff struggle with the legalese used, in which case, what chance has the average member of the public got?
So, if it’s the case that the public possibly struggles to understand these adverts and, moreover, gets this information more from hyper-local posters and notifications than the ads, why should we continue to place these adverts in newspapers?
The views here are my own. If you want to learn how you can save money on your public notice advertising, please visit: http://www.thepotentmix.co.uk/services/public-notice-advertising