FORUM: Can MacKenzie revive the fortunes of the Mirror? - News Bunny rides to the rescue at the Mirror. Yes, after three years at Live TV, Kelvin MacKenzie is back in the newspaper business once again. Last week, he became deputy chief executive of the Mi

Kelvin is back. Strange but true. Having spent the past three years in the relative wilderness of cable television, Kelvin MacKenzie is moving centre stage at the Mirror Group. He moves up from managing director at Live TV to deputy chief executive of the entire group, reporting to the chief executive, David Montgomery. MacKenzie will still oversee the company’s TV interests, but the big news is that he’s back in newspapers, effectively running the Mirror, the Sunday Mirror, the People, the Independent, the Independent on Sunday, the Daily Record and the Sunday Mail.

Kelvin is back. Strange but true. Having spent the past three years

in the relative wilderness of cable television, Kelvin MacKenzie is

moving centre stage at the Mirror Group. He moves up from managing

director at Live TV to deputy chief executive of the entire group,

reporting to the chief executive, David Montgomery. MacKenzie will still

oversee the company’s TV interests, but the big news is that he’s back

in newspapers, effectively running the Mirror, the Sunday Mirror, the

People, the Independent, the Independent on Sunday, the Daily Record and

the Sunday Mail.



Apparently, there is no truth in the rumour that his appointment sparked

the sudden resignation last week of Liam Kane, managing director of the

group’s Scottish newspapers - but dominoes will undoubtedly topple.

Kelvin’s like that. He has strong opinions about people and they tend

either to love or loathe him. The Mirror Group’s titles are about to

experience a period of upheaval.



About time, too, some might say. Others will add that MacKenzie is back

where he belongs and that tabloid newspapers have been all the poorer

for his absence. From the Wapping dispute, through the Falklands

conflict to the Kuwait crisis, MacKenzie was inseparable from the 80s

Zeitgeist as he reinvented tabloid publishing. In a confrontational

decade, he thrived on confrontation, and his ballsy attitude was perhaps

encapsulated in one word - the Sun’s ’Gotcha’ headline when the Belgrano

was sunk.



Others, of course, would argue that another side to his character was

far more important - the ’Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster’ MacKenzie, the

seaside-postcard, iconoclastic, Carry On Kelvin, the man who turned the

tabloids into a frivolous extension of the entertainment industry.



But that was then. The world has moved on. There’s a Labour government,

bands sound like the Beatles again and we’re supposedly caring and

sharing.



And, let’s face it, the Mirror now has at the helm young Kelvin, 90s

Kelvin - Piers Morgan, MacKenzie’s protege at Wapping. He may not have

MacKenzie’s sense of humour or panache, but he’s certainly from the same

mould. Trouble is, it isn’t working. The mid-market Daily Mail is now

neck and neck with the Mirror on sales of around 2.2 million.



And it hasn’t really been working for MacKenzie either. Live TV’s News

Bunny and Topless Darts seem, not audacious and iconoclastic but, well

... just sad.



Could MacKenzie be yesterday’s man? Fiona Smedley, joint managing

director of Universal McCann, believes so. She says: ’He is extremely

bold in his decision-making, but the main problem with MacKenzie is his

sleaziness. There has been a shift in public taste and I’m not sure that

he has perceived that - at least, you’d doubt it if you’d seen Live TV’s

dwarves on trampolines doing the weather.’



That’s a minority position, though. Mark Cranmer, managing director of

Motive Communications, says that Live TV’s detractors are perhaps

missing the point. ’Of course, some people don’t like it. But I think

that Live TV is a powerful brand. It polarises opinion, but that’s

legitimate and it was what the Sun did. I’ll bet you more people hated

the Sun than loved it at the height of its success.’



Mandy Pooler, the managing director of the Network, believes that if the

advertising industry was being honest, it would say that Kelvin

MacKenzie is a genius. ’They may not always like the way he does things

- especially when it comes to questions of taste - but a lot of us think

he was the greatest tabloid editor ever. Either you have a feeling for

people or you don’t, and it doesn’t matter how old you are. I think he

has it. And I don’t think it has to do with eras or who’s in power. It’s

about brightening up people’s grey days in the office or on the factory

floor. I don’t think he will have lost his sense of that,’ she says.



There are some caveats, though. If, as some believe, the British public

is losing its taste for mass-market tabloids, even MacKenzie will have

his work cut out.



Christine Walker, managing partner of Walker Media, thinks the

obituaries for the tabloids are premature. She states: ’The Mirror is a

big challenge.



It’s in an incredibly competitive market, but we’ve all seen brands

reinvent themselves. And I don’t think you should assume that Kelvin

will tackle this in an 80s way. He is a good ideas man and he’s good at

re-energising people. His way of doing that may be whacking them around

the room - love him or hate him, you just can’t ignore him. You always

come out of a meeting with him recharged and with a fresh way of seeing

things. He has incredible drive and vitality. That’s exactly what’s

needed. I think we’ll see fresh faces and fresh thinking, too. If

nothing else, it will be bloody interesting.’



As ever, concrete views on what exactly the Mirror needs are thin on the

ground. And then there’s the Independent - adrift, starved of management

sympathy and resources, its circulation in freefall following yet

another relaunch. Does MacKenzie have any understanding of that market -

or the appetite to turn things around? No-one knows, but many fear the

answer may not be the one they want to hear.



It’s not an impossible task, and the timing of the appointment perhaps

invites interesting comparisons. Last autumn, ITV asked Richard Eyre to

set its house in order. Last week, he gave his first report - to

widespread acclaim in the advertising industry. Like the Mirror, ITV has

been a brand in decline. Are there parallels to be drawn with the ITV

situation?



Smedley says that the Mirror has suffered from the imposition in the

past of too many quick fixes. She agrees that, like ITV, it needs a

coherent long-term plan and it should be presented skilfully to the

advertising industry. That’s not exactly MacKenzie’s style, though. In

any case, argues Cranmer, the analogy doesn’t really work. ’ITV is still

the brand leader.



It’s been a long while since you could say that about the Mirror. The

real comparison might be with Kelvin MacKenzie in 1981. The Sun wasn’t

market leader then, but it was when he left it.’



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