Maple Ridge councillor wants to cut out city ads in papers

‘Engagement is higher in print.’

Coun. Craig Speirs.

Coun. Craig Speirs.

A Maple Ridge councillor wants to end city advertising in community newspapers, saying it’s ineffective and costs too much.

Coun. Craig Speirs was commenting at Monday’s committee meeting after newspaper ads seeking input on a proposal to extend liquor service hours at a restaurant generated no responses.

“I know newspaper advertising is quite expensive and we didn’t get any responses related to that advertising.”

The City of Maple Ridge also sent out 417 letters to nearby residents about the change in liquor hours, but the city only received two replies opposing the change.

“I think the newspaper avenue for advertising is almost past and I think we should look at other venues for notification,” Speirs said. “I think we’re wasting our money with newspaper advertising, quite frankly.”

For instance, the Hammond Community Association could have been contacted for its input into the restaurant’s proposed change in liquor hours.

Brown’s Social House on Lougheed Highway wants to extend its hours for serving liquor by an hour to 1 a.m., on Thursdays, Fridays and  Saturdays.

City notices about that appeared in The News, Jan. 1 and 6.

Council heard that Ridge Meadows RCMP have no concerns about the longer hours.

Speirs was told that it’s a provincial regulation that notices get posted in newspapers.

“So that’s who we should be speaking to. I think it’s time they caught up.”

Couns. Tyler Shymkiw and Corisa Bell agreed. Bell, however, mentioned a similar resolution was proposed at this year’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.

“I think we need to advocate for it, yes.”

The resolution endorsed at the 2015 UBCM resolution calls for the government to allow cities to use a variety of media to get out their notices, providing they prove that they can reach the same or more number of residents as newspapers.

The preamble to the resolution says that, “printed newspapers are no longer the only or most effective means of giving public notice.”

If accepted by the provincial government, municipalities no longer would have to use newspapers to publicize their notices.

The News has a contract with Maple Ridge to provide the notices and legal information pertaining to bylaws and notifications.

News publisher Jim Coulter asked if there was any market research to back up statements that newspaper advertising doesn’t work or that readership has declined.

“We still have the best reach in the community. We get to every door step. Who else does that?”

It’s possible that people just aren’t that concerned about the issue of the restaurant notice, Coulter added.

Speirs said later that he had no definite numbers, but based his comments on what he’s seen in the last few years.

“We are getting almost no response when we advertise notices in the paper, and it’s a legislated thing.

“And I’m not going to try to take business from the paper. But I think we just need to go at it in a different way. We get a lot of response with online postings and that,” from the Facebook and the city’s website.

“We get quite a bit of response from Facebook,” when the city posts notices or items on neighbourhood Facebook groups.

“It’s just the changing face of community engagement. You got to deal with it the way it is.”

But the city still gets a fair amount of response to newspaper ads on certain issues, he added.

While the City of Maple Ridge posts many notices of road closures, announcements and notices of meetings and consultations on its Facebook page, as of January, there have been no postings of statutory or legal notifications, which generate less response.

Tim Shoults, president of the B.C. and Yukon Community Newspapers Association, said engagement is three times higher from print compared to online material.

And online notices are only effective if people know where to look, he added. However, he agrees there should be a mix of media used for notifying the public.

“Reducing statutory advertising in newspapers … will harm the newspaper’s ability to serve those communities and cover local government.”

Social media companies such as Facebook and Google “don’t create any local content and they don’t pay professionals to create the local content and to cover local government.”

He said 79 per cent of English speaking adults in B.C. have read a community paper in the last week.

Statutory advertising “keeps local government accountable,” he said.