Saving local media requires new thinking and new data

—Local media is often ignored by media planners because of data gaps that ignore smaller communities and marginalized groups, says Sarah Thompson—

Media planning is fuelled by data and crafted by tools that shape investment decisions for clients looking to create market share or growth opportunities.

It is both an art (because of the thinking about how media exists in Canadians lives) and a science (using data from panels and other sources).

But within these data sets, media opportunities, and decisions, there is an information gap that every planner, investment executive, and brand executive needs to understand. This gap also explains why local Canadian media started to appear less and less on media plans, something the CMDC has identified as a pressing and important problem—not just for the industry but for the country and democracy itself. The goal of the mission is to retain media investment in Canadian local media.

“Our data banks are missing data and research on underrepresented and marginalized communities in Canada which make up an important portion of the population,” said Brian Cuddy, SVP at Cossette Media. “This prevents us from having true understanding of, and the ability to empathize with, all Canadians.”

First, there is a quality issue with the data that planners are seeing. The past decade has seen fewer markets measured by Numeris—long a backbone for data in TV and radio. That is a problem, because new planners don’t know what they don’t see in the data.

As sources for media behaviour and habits used with planning tools, Canada panels don’t recognize the inherent data bias, they also under sample, and fail to provide the granularity needed to truly understand and market to all of Canada.

There are many reasons for this data quality issue, but the main reason is cost and reliability. It is expensive to get a panel that allows for proper representation of smaller populations, and BIPOC, Indigenous and LGBTQ+ communities. There is no provider to do this regularly, because no one will pay that cost.

“The impact of this is that these communities become largely invisible within an incredibly important industry dataset,” said Cuddy.

The impact is that dollars aren’t allocated to something that doesn’t appear to be there, even though it is. If it isn’t measured and in a data set, it won’t appear on a plan. This is what has happened to local media, and the result is news deserts, ghost towns, and an eroding Canada media ecosystem.

If the data point doesn’t appear in Telmar, a platform used by the media industry to analyze panel and data to create investment plans, the planner doesn’t think to factor in the opportunity. No one knows to go and look at the absence of information—in fact, planners just assume media no longer exists as an opportunity in regions and among populations that never get measured. This is what we generally call confirmation bias: “The tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses.”

And so, the cycle of erosion of local media continues.

“If we can quantify that spending money on local media drives better KPI, whether they are brand-building metrics or more acquisition-driven metrics, versus global media outlets, I think we will see more planners incorporate local media more on their plans,” said David Rusli, chief data and strategy officer, Publicis.

It is time for planners across Canada to challenge their confirmation bias and appreciate what is missing in panels, Numeris and other sources, not only to build a stronger media investment strategy, but also to support local media.

Local media continues to show it is more trusted, garners more attention, and delivers better quality leads. We will address that in a forthcoming article. For now, it is important to ask: “What isn’t in this data set, and what opportunity are we missing?”

Sarah Thompson is president, media for dentsu Canada. This column is part of a series on behalf of the CMDC as it supports the Media Manifesto. Learn more about the Manifesto here.