Indie's ad sales team inherits Barnes trainspotter gene

campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 02 September 2004 12:00AM

Detail is The Independent's new commercial director's middle name. By Ian Darby

There must be an obsessional gene in the Barnes make-up. Simon Barnes, the recently appointed commercial director at The Independent, has a whole room in his London home devoted to vinyl and CDs and has transferred 6,000 songs to his iPod.

His brother Andy, the sales director at Channel 4, has a whole room in his house devoted to a shrine to his beloved Arsenal.

Of his love of music, Simon Barnes says: "I'm obsessed with finding the little nuggets, trying to search out the really rare things."

This trait is also apparent in his work, according to former colleagues. "He has a massive capacity for anal detail," one says. But they also say that he matches this with less trainspotterish tendencies.

Charlie Varley, the managing partner at Walker Media who worked at the digital content company Oxigen with Barnes, says: "He's a complete media junkie, a big networker and the ultimate pressure salesman."

Barnes, 51, spent close to 20 years at Associated Newspapers, latterly as the ad director at The Mail on Sunday in the mid- to late-90s and then running its contract publishing division. He departed Associated in 2000 and then resurfaced at Oxigen, which he left in 2002.

Outside work, Barnes backs up his networking credentials with membership of the Solus Club and friendships with many from an older media generation, such as the former Carat boss Mark Craze. He also has a famously complicated ffamily life (four children by different partners).

There were some raised eyebrows at his appointment because he's been out of day-to-day involvement with newspapers for almost five years. But he has kept close to the industry through working on Stephen Glover's daily newspaper launch The World, a project that will continue without him. Few doubt, however, that he has a job on his hands in getting to know a few of the younger press directors who had strong relationships with Barnes' popular predecessor, Lawrie Procter.

Barnes addresses the doubters who think he might have been out too long and not up to speed with changes in the way newspapers deal with agencies: "Have I had a sharp focus on newspapers? No. Do I think that's a problem? No. Because there's a love, passion and insight there and some of the things I've done since [Associated] have challenged me differently."

The challenge Barnes now faces is to help turn The Independent's circulation success since going compact (its July circulation was up 27% year on year) into long-term commercial success. Procter had begun this process but there was a notable setback when the newspaper became embroiled in battles with agencies over proposed price hikes and the cost of ads in the compact edition.

Insiders say his first job is to instil some professionalism into the organisation through basic measures such as introducing databases of contacts and case studies. He will also spearhead its belated attempt to take discussions beyond media buyers into planning departments and direct to advertisers.

Some feel Barnes will encounter a lack of depth in The Independent's commercial team compared with the resources he had at Associated. "He'll notice the talent difference," one source says.

There is also a suspicion that Procter got out at the right time because by October, when the circulation figures will no longer be comparing the new compact with the old broadsheet, year-on-year increases will be less impressive.

Barnes isn't worried, believing that there is plenty of talent in his 150-strong team. "The resources are there in spades; there's an attitude there of what do we need to make it happen? There's an element of self-deprecation about the management in that they admit there are things they could have gone about differently. It's extremely refreshing."

Critics say that his past experience of being able to turn advertising away at the phenomenally successful MoS won't prepare him for the struggle on a title with a much smaller circulation. Not true, Barnes says: "When I joined the MoS, it hadn't launched. It then didn't meet initial expectations of selling one-and-a-quarter million and for me, at the coalface, it was difficult because we were massively off the pace and smaller than we wanted to be."

And Barnes displays an excitement, bordering on obsession, with a brand he can't wait to work on. "One of the most exciting jobs in newspapers has to be The Independent," is his first comment. This enthusiasm might just carry him through.

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This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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