The death of Apollo signals newspaper advertising in a rut

Forget order, harmony, civilisation and, erm, space exploration. The name Apollo has come to symbolise dithering, petty power-play and yet another shabby display of arse and elbow confusion in the newspaper market, writes Claire Beale.

The initiative that was to unite the Telegraph Group and Mirror Group ad sales under the ambitious Apollo brand lasted all of six months and, familiarly, never actually reached the point where it was anything other than a fog of verbosity pretending to be a shrewd business strategy.

So where did it all go wrong... again? Back in March when Apollo was first rehearsed, talk was of a new vision for newspaper sales, a focus on brands rather than volume, bigger and better resources for the Mirror, and, perhaps crucially, cost efficiencies for both parties at a time when the newspaper display market was struggling.

Six months on and the urgency for a fresh force in newspaper sales seems keener than ever. The display market continues to be depressed, the Mirror has cut a swathe of redundancies through its sales department, the Daily Mirror has come under fire for the apparent failure of its £6.5m price war with The Sun, and Trinity Mirror has just announced a 3% slide in pre-tax profits, with national ad revenue down 8.4%.

Yet in a statement this week, Mirror Group Newspapers' managing director, Mark Haysom, says that the timing is no longer right for Apollo, that MGN "has launched a number of important strategic initiatives and we need to maintain the focus of our management effort on these". Sorting out ad sales into a new souped-up, better-resourced sales operation is clearly not considered to be a smart way of freeing up management to focus on wider strategic issues.

But what seems like a definite backward step for the Mirror is a more crushing blow to the ambitions of the Telegraph. Poor Len Sanderson, the Telegraph's managing director of sales, is left knee deep in shattered dreams again -- Apollo was his second stab at actually shaking things in the inward-looking business of paper ad sales. First time round was with the Express in 1996; the shards of the broken Apollo plan will re-open the old scars.

Yet for all that, the demise of Apollo is about as surprising as Guy Zitter ordering a decent wine for lunch. It's yet another example of newspaper publishers' inability to take a broader view of the advertising marketplace and resolve individual differences for the sake of growing the market and driving real efficiencies. As such it also seems like a pretty bad omen for the planned Newspaper Marketing Agency. With MGN and the Telegraph's plans in disarray, with The Sun and The Mirror in a war of words over the price war, with the Express and Associated Newspapers in battle over coverage of their proprietors, newspaper disharmony is suddenly making the TV boys look like a relatively united force.

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