SPOTLIGHT ON: THE EXPRESS: Express cracks whip again in relentless pursuit of Maildom - In ’98, Lowes and Burnetts have been axed. Who will be next?

By ALASDAIR REID, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 11 December 1998 12:00AM

As a feature elsewhere in this week’s Campaign shows, media owners - and newspaper publishers in particular - can be a nightmare to work with at the best of times. Recent evidence suggests, however, that the Express is in a league of its own.

As a feature elsewhere in this week’s Campaign shows, media owners

- and newspaper publishers in particular - can be a nightmare to work

with at the best of times. Recent evidence suggests, however, that the

Express is in a league of its own.



The usual charge levelled at publishers is they can’t see much further

than tactical promotions touting specific content or wheezes designed to

boost circulation and stimulate trial - everything from blunderbuss

cover-price cuts to competitions and games.



Agencies, if they can, grit their teeth, acknowledge this and get on

with it. But not even teeth gritting gets you far at the Express, which

sacked Lowe Howard-Spink back in April and, like the unrepentant

philanderer it now seems to be, dumped Lowes’ successor, Leo Burnett,

last week.



So what is so difficult about the Express? Three words go a long way to

providing an answer: the Daily Mail. While no great fan of brand

advertising itself, its success is proving hard to live with.



Lord Hollick, who bought the Express in 1996, has spent three years

demanding instant results. When you order something to happen yesterday,

you create what used to be called creative tension. Keep doing it and

you’re likely to get a lot of people running around like headless

chickens.



Not only do you create a high staff turnover but there is a greater risk

of management conflict. If newspaper brands exist, then editors have an

enormous involvement in the stewardship of those brands. So they have at

least some say in marketing and advertising issues. But, according to

some sources, there appears to be no clear understanding about who has

ultimate responsibility at the Express - the former marketing director,

now commercial director, Paul Woolfenden, who joined in February; or the

editor, Rosie Boycott, who was appointed in April?



There has reportedly been conflict between the two - Woolfenden looking

for longer term branding strategies, Boycott demanding quick-fix

promotional gimmicks. However, some Express insiders say the problem is

more banal - when two people have the power to say no, at least one of

them will be tempted to demonstrate that power. Sources at Burnetts also

point out that the promised national brand campaign budgets didn’t

materialise.



But, more fundamentally, you can’t build anything without a solid

cornerstone - and the Express has had more restructures, relaunches and

redesigns in the last few years than the Observer has had editors.



Woolfenden denies there has been any conflict between the editorial and

commercial wings of the paper but he does admit that the newspaper’s

positioning has fluctuated in recent times.



He adds: ’What I do want to make clear is that this branding versus

editorial content debate just didn’t happen. The branding thing was an

attempt to test whether it could have some role to play in a campaign

But there should be no doubt that content advertising comes first. We

are desperate to find a relationship everyone here is comfortable

with.’



The good news is that the brief he has issued looks promising. Young &

Rubicam, St Luke’s and RPM3 will pitch - Fallon McElligott and Burnetts

both declined invitations. One senior agency source who knows a thing or

two about newspapers commented: ’I was actually amazed when I saw the

brief - it looks incredibly challenging and exciting and, dare I say it,

coherent.



’I’ve a pretty good idea why Fallon McElligott has declined to pitch.

It’s a young agency with high creative ideals and it probably feels it

doesn’t need this sort of hassle.



As for the rest - good luck to them. No doubt they all believe a leopard

can change its spots. Me - I just don’t believe it.’



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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