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Is your competition really your competition?

Posted on 10 August 2012

Recently, I was working on a story that, on its surface, was David vs Goliath. A small, locally owned business had a new neighbour that just happened to be a larger, corporate-owned place that sold pretty much the same thing. The new business had a bigger sign, flashier messaging, and the ability to send out much more advertising.

End of the line for the local guys, right?

Except it wasn’t. Apparently, in the time since the small business got the corporate neighbour, business was up. People were attracted by the bigger sign and better advertising, but some were opting to try out the local store instead. Rather than the big business taking customers away from the small business, it was attracting new ones for both.

This isn’t an entirely unexpected outcome. In an article for Slate magazine, Taylor Clark examines why Starbucks actually helps mom and pop coffee houses:

“Each new Starbucks store created a local buzz, drawing new converts to the latte-drinking fold. When the lines at Starbucks grew beyond the point of reason, these converts started venturing out—and, Look! There was another coffeehouse right next-door!”

This made me think about the job I have covering local current affairs. There’s sometimes a tendency to think of other media outlets- be they print, digital, or broadcast- as competitors. All these other reporters and writers are trying to outscoop you, and take your audience.

But I don’t think this way. I see other media in the region as complementary. A newspaper focused on just one city can follow threads that a regional radio show can’t, while the regional radio show can come up with storytelling formats and guests that wouldn’t work in other medium. We all have our constraints and our competitive advantages.

If we focus on those individual advantages, we all win. If everyone does their job well, the number of people interested in local stories will go up. And the more people are interested in local stories, the more demand there will be for coverage from a variety of sources and in a variety of formats. As in the case of the corporate giant and the local business, sometimes your competition isn’t.

Filed under: Best Of, ideas, journalism, media

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