A mixed reception awaits the MGN marketing chief, writes Gordon
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
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
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
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
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
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
It was a decision that left a lot of bad feeling which, two years on,
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).