Jeremy Lee: Getting Desmond onside is a tough target for NMA boss

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Jeremy Lee
Jeremy Lee

Achieving the same degree of fame as his predecessor, Maureen Duffy, will be quite a challenge for Rufus Olins, the new chief executive of the Newspaper Marketing Agency and late of the Campaign parish.

We refer, of course, to Duffy's failure to stop the defection of Richard & Judy to Channel 4 and Alf Stewart and other residents of Summer Bay to Channel 5 when she was the head of daytime at ITV more than ten years ago. This led to a collapse in ITV's daytime share and the departure of Duffy herself soon after.

How successful her nine-year tenure as the first chief of the NMA will be judged is probably one more suited to the long view, but some credit is due for getting the ad community more interested in newspapers as a creative palette - no mean feat.

Notable case studies on newspaper effectiveness, or research papers - surely the bread and butter of any trade marketing body, particularly one as lavishly funded as the NMA - were rather thinner on the ground. It is easy to draw comparisons with Tess Alps' Thinkbox, which has worked particularly tirelessly in this area, as well as rebutting some of the more absurd claims about the demise of the medium, while also championing great creative.

But where both the NMA and Thinkbox have a shared experience is in their dealings with Richard Desmond's Northern & Shell. N&S withdrew its funding of the former for Express Newspapers in 2007 and the latter for Channel 5 in 2010 but has continued to bathe in the halos of luminance that are cast by both.

The professional vulgarian Desmond put in a characteristically dismissive performance on the value of the NMA in his appearance at the Leveson inquiry last week (although his utterances on the meaning of "ethics" in light of his stable's coverage of the McCann family were even more disturbing, and Matthew Norman did a far better job of skewering him for this in Saturday's Telegraph than I could ever manage).

Nonetheless, on a parochial level, the NMA has extended the hand of friendship and said that he would be welcomed back into the fold, which is probably a view shared by Thinkbox. It also seems to be fair given how, despite claiming to not know what the NMA does, N&S benefits from its membership of both trade marketing bodies (although I rather doubt Desmond sees it this way).

In fact, you could argue that their existence is all the more critical given Desmond's tendency to shoot his mouth off at all opportunities and undo the good work done in engendering goodwill by both. Olins is a persuasive man. If he manages to get N&S back, then his legacy will be assured. But let's not hold our breath.

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