The ethnic pound

The UK’s ethnic communities now number over 4.5m (approx 8% of total population). This is a sizable market, made accessible by its concentration in London and a few other large cities. James Evelegh talks to Ethnic Media Group’s Mike Chinnery about the challenges of marketing to Britain’s black and Asian communities.

By James Evelegh

The Ethnic Media Group (EMG) does exactly what it says on the tin. It produces publications and stages events for ethnic communities (specifically black and Asian) in the UK. Until 2002 it was owned by Trinity Mirror but is now an independent company, based in Whitechapel and employing approximately sixty people.

Its flagship titles are Eastern Eye (Asian) and New Nation (black). These are fast paced titles aimed at the younger generations of their respective communities. Both have recently joined ABC membership; partly a measure of their growing confidence but also the result of a growing number of rival publications, especially in the Asian market, making what EMG felt were exaggerated circulation claims.

To cover all the bases EMG also publishes India Weekly and Caribbean Times which appeal to the older generations with larger helpings of "home" news. The circulation of these titles is looked after by Mike Chinnery, group circulation and marketing manager and his team of four: Jennifer Kumi, who looks after events and sponsorship, and three other members of staff who manage: field sales, the growing subscriber database and newspaper promotions.

The two audited titles have very similar figures. Both have primary figures of approx 21,000 and both sell approx 16,000 via the newstrade. The bulk of the difference is claimed as monitored free distribution (MFD). These are copies distributed at events, a key part of EMG’s strategy to build awareness. More often than not, money has changed hands for these copies, but as part of a contra deal against publicity within the paper. Under ABC rules these have to be counted as MFD. In addition, Eastern Eye has a substantial "non newstrade" element which is not claimed on the ABC at all. Approximately 3,500 copies are distributed through the Asian wholesale network and not through the conventional supply chain. For the most part the necessary paperwork and procedures are not in place to claim these under paid circulation and Chinnery is loath to claim them as MFD wary of the possible implications of having too high a "free element". He has managed to put systems in place to claim about 1,000 of them and is working on the rest.

As with any newstrade title, the two pillars of circulation strategy centre on availability and awareness.


Being special interest publications, EMG titles have the benefit of having clearly defined target markets. Furthermore Asian and black communities tend to live in clearly defined geographical areas. Because that definition is based on ethnicity there are a number of targeting tools available. The Labourforce Survey and National Census are the corner stones of much of their circulation planning. For instance, the census tells us that for postcode area B10 in Birmingham, 71% of a total population of 25,484 are of Asian origin. It also helpfully breaks that figure down into subgroups; Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Other and Mixed. This is particularly helpful to the editorial teams since young Asian Indians are very different from young Asian Pakistanis and the editor needs to make allowances for this. The census figures work both on a micro and macro level. For instance they tell us that 63% of all black Britons live in London, and less than 1% in the North East and 37% of Asian Britons live in London and just 1% in Wales. From a newspaper supply perspective this is hugely valuable data. Chinnery works closely with their distributor, COMAG Specialist, to make sure they are taking best possible advantage of this information. As a rule of thumb they focus most of their effort on any postcode where the respective ethnic community forms 20% or more of the population. There are exceptions; London postcode area NW10 is just 17% ethnic, but that equates to 12,000 people, so is clearly viable territory for EMG.

An intelligent comparison of the 2001 census and the 1991 census also helps to highlight demographic trends and will allow Chinnery and his team to fine tune their circulation efforts and to be aware of areas which are likely to become viable before the next census. DE23 (in Derby) saw a big increase in its ethnic community between the two dates. Also discernible is a growing Asian community in Harrow and, as the Asian community experiences increased wealth and aspirations, a steady exodus out of Brent. Circulation targeting will shift accordingly.

The wealth of population information gives EMG significant advantages over many "mainstream" publishers. Where EMG suffers is that, in Chinnery’s view, wholesalers do not have a natural feel for ethnic communities so are perhaps not as effective as they might be in contributing targeting support. Also, as is the case with most small to medium size publishers, some of the promotional opportunities available to bigger publishers are not feasible. They used to employ a full time merchandiser to do the rounds of newsagents checking on display and compliance. Now they use occasional freelance merchandisers and focus these in areas of high potential and specifically on those newsagents returning copies early. The vast majority of their newstrade sales are via independent newsagents. A further, though hard to quantify, challenge for Eastern Eye is that the newspaper is sometimes read by the shopowner and then returned as an unsold! Every newstrade title suffers to a certain extent from this, but where the shopowner is a key reader segment, it can have a disproportionate effect on sales. EMG tries to get round this by insisting on a minimum supply of two copies, but this might help explain relatively poor efficiencies of approximately 50%.

Eastern Eye is on sale Friday and New Nation on Monday. 70% of sales are on day 1, which must make Easter weekend a complete nightmare! As with so many titles the choice of front cover is one of the biggest influences on sales. For New Nation, featuring popular black Americans is generally successful (Mike Tyson and Beyonce have been particularly popular draws in the recent past) and for Eastern Eye Bollywood stars usually pull good numbers. Cover price, of course, is another driver. New Nation has recently increased its from 65p to 75p. This was partly to reposition the title against its main competitor. EMG did not want New Nation to be seen as a "cheap" alternative to the 80p Voice.


A key plank of EMG’s circulation strategy is to build awareness of its tiles through participation in community events. For the September issue of New Nation 17,000 copies were distributed at events. The newspapers take their community responsibilities seriously so like to be seen to be supportive. On the commercial side they provide great opportunities to distribute newspapers to significant numbers of target readers.

A typical scenario; the organisers of an Asian speed dating event have hired a hall. They want to promote the event but can’t afford normal display rates so they approach Jennifer who will put together a package. There are different levels of support EMG can give: display ads, lineage, editorial coverage and Jennifer’s job is to negotiate the best possible deal – something which will always include the supply and distribution of copies at the event. A typical event might be expected to attract 250 people, so for our Asian speed dating event, EMG would probably supply 125 copies, purchased for approx 40p per copy by the organiser and then distributed free at the event. As with any distribution, compliance is an issue, so Jennifer will make unannounced spot checks to ensure everything is in order.

Back of a bus

Budgets permitting, EMG will also do point of sale (usually window posters) and some limited advertising. Promotional activity will often be scheduled for October, which is usually their best month for sales. In October 2003 EMG invested approx £15,000 in a back-panel-of-the-bus advertising campaign for Eastern Eye. They sat down with Viacom and worked out which bus routes carried the greatest proportion of their target market. The campaign focused on six routes, and with between 30 and 40 buses per route, this amounted to coverage on about 200 buses for a six week period. To reinforce the sales message EMG ran off window posters for all the newsagents in their target areas. To keep costs down, all creative was handled in house. The result – no perceptible uplift! Ouch!

Chinnery was philosophical. The campaign looked great, so can’t have done any harm! And, as is so often said of promotional campaigns, who can tell what would have happened to sales if the campaign hadn’t run. Would they do it again – perhaps, but probably as part of a campaign, rather than as the central plank.

The future

According to Mike Chinnery there are three areas of growth for EMG; acquisition of other titles (and events), increased focus on spin offs and events and a gradual repositioning of the company as a "diversity" company rather than solely an "ethnic" one.

Recent acquisitions have included Occasions – a traditional newstrade title, capitalising on the huge interest (and not just from the Asian community) in Asian weddings. EMG is considering the potential for organising wedding events off the back of this new title. EMG already organises a number of highly successful events including three large recruitment fairs each year and the Asian Business Awards (recently rebranded as "Success"), now in its seventh year. The awards programme has been repackaged as a stand alone title which is distributed on the newsstand, primarily in financial districts, and is also polybagged as a supplement with the relevant issue of Eastern Eye.

The outlook is not universally rosy; two of EMG’s titles, Africa Times and Diversity Today, are currently suspended. However, with the strength of their flagship titles and the continued growth of events and other spin offs, the future for EMG would appear to be bright.