CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/ANDREW KITCHING; Wanderer returns to claim his newspaper crown

A mixed reception awaits the MGN marketing chief, writes Gordon MacMillan

A mixed reception awaits the MGN marketing chief, writes Gordon

MacMillan



In Fleet Street, it’s time for a show-down as the former News

International big-hitter, Andrew Kitching, prepares to blow back into

town and into Mirror Group Newspapers big style. Although the movie of

the story isn’t out yet, it will be very Dodge City, very ‘this town

ain’t big enough for all of us’.



It will be a movie with plenty of dark, brooding shots and subplots -

more Mean Streets than Wall Street. And don’t be put off by the numerous

scenes of men in expensive dark suits. It will be an action-adventure

romp, with heroes and villains and a supporting cast of thousands.



As a leading man, Kitching fits the bill perfectly. He is, according to

the word around town, charming, well-groomed, bright, engaging and quite

ruthless. What more could you ask for?



Kitching, the former vice-president of marketing at the New York Daily

News, will touch down in August and move into a spacious office marked

‘managing director, marketing’ (Campaign, last week). His brief,

according to Mirror Group, encompasses responsibility ‘for the

promotions, marketing and brand development of all Mirror Group titles’.



His new office will have a view across Canary Wharf, but it’s no wild

theory that Kitching’s gaze will be firmly fixed on his former home of

nine years: Fortress Wapping. A place where they play the Sun off

against the Mirror, the Times against the Independent and BSkyB against

Live TV.



Kitching has been a newspaperman virtually all of his working life. He

joined the Sun in 1985 as the competitions manager from Newcastle

University, where he had stayed on at the end of his German degree to

run the campus entertainments - one of his greatest achievements, he

once boasted, was selling out a Haircut 100 concert in half an hour.

Buoyed by that success, he briefly tried his hand as a concert promoter,

shifting tickets to teenyboppers before seeing sense and moving to the

soaraway Sun.



It was at the Sun, working closely with its former editor, Kelvin

Mackenzie, that Kitching developed his newspaper skills. His finest hour

was the introduction of interactive TV bingo through game-show

sponsorships, which he developed with ITV as a way of increasing the

paper’s circulation.



Mirror Group has been trying to cast Kitching for some time. He is seen

as the man who can pull the punters in, bring a little joy to Number

One, Canada Square, and give the opposition a run for its money. His

return is linked with talk of a redesign at the Mirror, and a major

marketing offensive to give the paper the lift it needs to differentiate

itself from the Sun and develop its own distinctive brand identity.



This is a tall order in anyone’s book, but, say friends and detractors

alike, if anyone can make an impact, Kitching can. As one who wanted to

remain anonymous put it: ‘He knows more about marketing newspapers than

anyone else around. It is a ruthless business and he is a ruthless man.’



As screenplays go, this one kicks off perfectly primed for an almighty

explosion. Picture the scene: here is Kitching, returning to London

after a two-year absence (or, as some might have it, a two-year exile),

at the New York Daily News. He is back in town to work for the company

that he so effectively chastened in his time as the promotions director

at News International.



But better than that, he will be up against the very people he hired at

News International, the people who now rule the marketing roost. And

there is the dramatic edge added by the fact that the promotional

strategy News International is currently pursuing was, in part,

developed by Kitching. Or, in other words, he is playing against

himself. Whether he can beat himself is another question. The bets are

on - and it could go either way.



New York is a world away from London, and, as Kitching admits, his job

in New York was about marketing metropolitan newspapers not national

ones. Has he lost his touch after two years away from the game?



Looking at his time in New York, it doesn’t seem so. The Daily News has

overtaken the rival Murdoch paper, the New York Post, for the first time

in six years - this is despite a 10-cent price hike on the Daily News’s

cover price.



His return comes at a time when many British media people are travelling

the other way, quitting the UK for the US. It seems strange that

Kitching should want to come back to London now.



As he says: ‘The lifestyle is fabulous. You can snowboard in the winter,

go to the beach in the summer, and it’s all two or three hours from the

city. Whatever you are interested in you will find it in New York.’



Sounds great, so why come back here? Maybe the lifestyle is beginning to

take its toll. When I speak to Kitching on the phone it’s 7pm in London.

He had said he would call six hours ago.



When he finally rings, he suggests I’m sounding a little frazzled. ‘It’s

been a long day,’ I tell him. In reply, Kitching complains that it’s

been a long day for him as well and do I mind if we cut the interview

short. Sorry? Long day? It’s only 2pm in New York.



Kitching refuses to elaborate on what he will do when he arrives at

Mirror Group. All he will say is ‘it’s a challenge’, all everyone else

will say is ‘isn’t it just’.



What is clear is that he will report directly to David Montgomery,

Mirror Group’s chief executive, and operate at the same level within the

company as the newspaper managing directors.



Kitching knows the ground - he is nothing like the man he replaces,

Charles Kirchner, who had a background steeped in fmcg marketing and

lasted only six months in the job.



If you ask Paul Bainsfair, joint chief executive at BST-BDDP, the agency

that had Kitching as a client when it ran the Today account, his return

has been motivated by the chance to compete with his old colleagues and

take on News International.



Talking of old colleagues, if you were to ask Ellis Watson, the

marketing director at the Sun and News of the World, or Toby

Constantine, the marketing director of the Times, as I did, for a quote

on their former boss, you get the strangest of replies: very

uncharacteristic, very short, tight-lipped corporate-speak.



A joint statement from the two of them reads: ‘He is the most charming

man in British marketing. Professionally, he is probably the most

inspired newspaper promotions man of his generation, and perhaps ever.

We look forward to having him back in the UK and pitting our wits

against him.’ End statement.



You can read into this statement what you will, but one thing that is

agreed on by one and all is that Kitching is very much a pro, rated as

one of the most talented people working in the world of newspaper

promotions. The bottom line is - in Dodge City, he knows how to sling a

gun.



Kitching, however, denies that there is a personal battle between

himself and his former colleagues, saying: ‘It’s not personal for

me. I think both Ellis and Toby are very good operators and I have a

great deal of respect for both of them.’



But, despite the mutual compliments, you get the distinct impression

that you will not find either Watson or Constantine happily sipping

champagne at the bar with Kitching.



Another person you won’t find there is Peter Steadman, the chief

executive of Arc, the agency Kitching effectively removed from the News

International roster, taking away both the Sun and News of the World

business.



It was a decision that left a lot of bad feeling which, two years on,

still lingers.



Steadman only has two words to say to Kitching should he ever meet him

again and, as he puts it, ‘they are not ‘happy birthday’’. Kitching will

probably never find himself close to Arc’s Euston Road offices, but it

would be interesting to see exactly what those two words would be

(please, no suggestions on a postcard).



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