FORUM: Can Burnetts turn around the Express’s fortunes? - Leo Burnett picked up the Express account last week. It’s a nice win, but it will prove to be a tough task. Millions spent on revamping the product have achieved no more than a slow

Predictable perhaps - new marketing director, new agency arrangements. What are the chances of that happening? Last week, just two days into his reign as Express Newspapers’ marketing director, Paul Woolfenden dumped Lowe Howard-Spink from the flagship Express account (Campaign, 3 April). He’d already hinted, before he’d got his feet under his new desk, that Lowes could do better.

Predictable perhaps - new marketing director, new agency

arrangements. What are the chances of that happening? Last week, just

two days into his reign as Express Newspapers’ marketing director, Paul

Woolfenden dumped Lowe Howard-Spink from the flagship Express account

(Campaign, 3 April). He’d already hinted, before he’d got his feet under

his new desk, that Lowes could do better.



The account goes to Leo Burnett - again, not an earth-shattering

surprise given that the agency already holds the Express on its Sunday

and Star accounts. It has produced some pretty decent work for both

those titles, but its new task is of a different order altogether. The

Express is easily the biggest marketing challenge in the newspaper

business.



Not so very long ago, the Express held a fairly comfortable market

position. Institutionally, it spent most of the 70s and 80s coming to

terms with the painful realisation that the glories of the Beaverbrook

era would never be recaptured. In the past decade, however, it has

become reconciled to life on a more modest scale.



It may have bowed to the inevitable and become a tabloid; it may have

accepted it might never again sell upwards of five million copies - but

it could always take comfort from the fact that it still spoke for

Middle England. And, just to keep things tidy, it was in the middle of

the mid-market too.



But in the past couple of years, the Express has seen its terms of

reference changed utterly, including the fact that the Daily Mail’s

circulation has gone into overdrive - for months it has been running

neck and neck with the supposedly mass-market Mirror. By stealing new

readers from right across the market, the Mail has grown beyond the

bounds of the old demarcations, leaving the Express looking rather

forlorn in the traditional middle market. And we all know that a market

of one isn’t really a market at all.



So where now? And what will Burnetts be asked to contribute? The brief

has yet to be finalised, according to sources at the agency. But

whatever happens, Tim Kirkman, the press buying director of TMD Carat,

argues that the Express has to think long term. He states: ’There is a

real problem because Lord Hollick (whose United News & Media owns the

Express) believes the product can be turned around very quickly. The

Mail set out to do what it intended to do at least seven years ago. I

seriously doubt whether the Express has that patience. It is notorious

for just concentrating on what needs to be done next week and for being

completely promotionally driven. Even the Sun these days is doing

branding commercials. The Express made a great thing some time back

about starting a branding campaign but it was very short-lived and

quickly forgotten.’



Kirkman is positive about the title’s success in halting its circulation

slide. And he believes it can count on a lot of goodwill from the

industry. ’We’d like to see the Express do very well indeed and give

some serious competition to the Mail. The Mail’s strength can cause

serious problems for trading. We need realistic choice in the

market.’



The strength of the Mail’s position was underlined last week when it

announced ratecard increases of up to 20 per cent, in line with

impressive circulation gains. Can the Express ever hope to give agencies

the mid-market options they crave? And, more fundamentally, does the

mid-market even exist these days?



Neither Woolfenden nor Stephen Whyte, the managing director of Burnetts,

were available for comment. But Guy Zitter, the managing director of the

Daily Mail, has some views. ’We’re seeing a blurring of the edges and

we’re moving to a situation where there’s less of a distinction between

broadsheets and tabloids,’ he says. ’It could be a return to the way

things were in the 60s before we saw the emergence of three very

distinct market segments. In the 60s there was hardly a house in the

country that didn’t take the Express. My job is to get the Mail into

that sort of position. The ability to deliver both a large audience and

a high-quality audience with one vehicle is extremely important to

advertisers these days. With the television audience continuing to

fragment, ours could be the only vehicle able to offer that.’



Bill Jones, the deputy chairman of MediaCom, says the idea of newspapers

branding themselves is nice, but he can’t see it happening here. He

explains: ’I suppose a big advertising idea can always shift product -

so we’ll wait and see if one emerges. But the reality is that the market

would seem to be completely led by pricing these days.’



Which is ironic, he says, since the product is looking as good as it

ever has. ’I certainly can’t see that there’s any great chasm between

the Mail and the Express. Yes, they are different, but the Express is no

less well written or well presented. It shouldn’t be in the position

it’s in. It sets itself apart in its sports coverage, and its Saturday

magazine is head and shoulders above the rest. Its whole look and feel

has been completely modernised. I can’t understand why people are not

buying it.



’I can’t see how they could profitably invest more in the product. The

worrying thing must be the depth of the Mail’s pockets. Anything the

Express can do, the Mail can match. The thing is, I don’t think the Mail

is bothered by the Express any more. It now has other fish to fry.’



Chris Shaw, the joint managing director of Universal McCann, is not so

generous. He maintains that the difficulties the Express faces are

exactly the same ones it faced five years ago. ’The circulation

differential between it and the Mail is, to my mind, irrelevant. The

thing it has to do is differentiate itself from the Mail. It has never

done something like Today did. Today took a bold stance. It came out and

told people: ’We stand for this, this and this.’ It was clear what its

position was. The Express is still trying to live on past glories. I’m

not sure it’s really accepted that those days have gone. Marketing is

part of the solution, of course, but a successful strategy adopted by

the Express must involve all aspects of the paper.’



Editor’s Comment, p 39.



Topics

Become a member of Campaign from just £46 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content

Share

1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).