CLOSE-UP: Live Issue - Evening Standard. Associated restructures the Standard

Can the Evening Standard be improved with a Metro philosophy?

It's been an eventful week for Associated Newspapers, following the sudden departure of the Evening Standard's managing director, Sally de la Bedoyere, and her swift replacement with Metro's managing director, Mike Anderson. A neatly packaged management change. Simple as that.

Of course, the situation is far from simple. For a start, the sudden nature of de la Bedoyere's resignation after 17 years with Associated makes it appear her departure was not entirely of her own volition. She is a well respected figure in the industry, but it is believed that her operational strengths have been sacrificed to make way for a more dynamic figurehead to lead an Evening Standard revolution.

That it should be Anderson is of little surprise, as he is the golden boy of Associated. The man who took the company's morning freesheet, Metro, to the brink of becoming a multimedia franchise, expanded its circulation to include Newcastle, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Scotland, and enabled it to finally break-even in London in the process.

Anderson himself will be replaced by his deputy, Steve Auckland, but will not totally relinquish control of the paper at which he made his name.

An Associated spokeswoman says: "In addition to his responsibilities at the Evening Standard, Mike's going to retain responsibility for the continued development of the Metro brand. Auckland is the managing director of Metro and will have day-to-day responsibility for it, but he'll report directly to Mike."

For the first time the Evening Standard and Metro will come under the jurisdiction of one person. The official line is that this set-up will allow Anderson to retain involvement in the growth of the brand he helped to establish. However, observers concur that the move is more likely the first step in an eventual merger between the sales divisions of the two newspapers.

The main advantage of such a move concerns the price of advertising space.

The two sales forces have until now operated as completely separate entities.

By combining them, Associated has the London newspaper advertising sector covered under one roof.

Few would go as far as to suggest that Associated should market both titles to advertisers as a package. But a closer working relationship between the Standard and Metro's sales divisions, with Anderson at the helm of both operations, will give the Standard the leverage it needs to raise its rates.

It's perhaps surprising that Associated hasn't considered such a move before now. It has also been suggested that it should combine the sales forces of its other two national titles, the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday. Some have even predicted this week's management shenanigans to be the first step toward a wider restructure that could involve Associated offering a single sales point. The company's other golden boy, Stephen Miron, the managing director of Associated New Ventures and a close friend of Anderson's, is considered to be poised for a greater role by several sources close to the company.

In the meantime, it's clear that the Evening Standard is playing catch-up to its freesheet rival.

Associated quite reasonably denies that the arrival of Metro has eaten into the Standard's circulation figures, claiming that differences in content and pricing have ensured that both titles have markedly different readerships.

But with both titles largely dependent on commuters, it would be naive to believe that the Evening Standard has been totally unaffected by Metro.

In the year to July, Metro's readership rose by 3.6 per cent to 838,496.

Meanwhile, the Standard's ABC fell 3 per cent to 416,914 between January and June.

This is true in terms of content as well as sales. With its lightweight menu of short, opinion-free features and recycled news, few would have predicted that Metro would have grown to be such a success. But it's precisely these qualities that have given the title the accessibility necessary to appeal to the cramped and jostled travelling public. The fact is that Metro has left the Standard looking slightly old-fashioned and, well, standard by comparison.

PHD Group's media director, Laura James, says: "Associated News needs to invigorate the Standard as far as the product and the sell is concerned to stop it being outshone by Metro."

Changes are already afoot at the Evening Standard, with the appointment of Veronica Wadley as the paper's new editor, followed by revamps for the supplements Hot Tickets and Life & Style, with the latter this week gaining a new editor in the former Marie Claire chief, Liz Jones.

Speculation may be rife about the other changes planned for the Evening Standard, but we shall just have to wait and see what the appointment of Anderson will mean. Yet one thing is for certain - following his performance at Metro, media buyers will be wary of this canny Scot.

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