FORUM: How the Mail’s sales rise could affect the Mirror - It had to happen sooner or later. The Mail now sells more copies each day than the Mirror. Should advertisers view the Mirror differently now that it has been overtaken? And does the Mail%

At last. The Mail’s circulation has overtaken that of the Mirror.

At last. The Mail’s circulation has overtaken that of the

Mirror.



When it comes to thinking the unthinkable, this is about as much of a

surprise as George Graham joining Spurs. In fact, the ’so-what’ factor

was probably even greater - people have been predicting that this was

going to happen for months. Although the Audit Bureau of Circulations

figures for September aren’t officially published for another week or

so, the Mirror conceded in a statement last week that its average

circulation for the month is likely to be 2,375,000 compared with the

Mail’s 2,420,000.



The upside of this, from the Mirror’s point of view, is that months of

speculation have given everyone time to get used to the idea of a

mid-market newspaper being more popular than a popular. And the Mirror

even attempted to turn a potential embarrassment into an opportunity. It

was the Mirror’s initiative, after all, to release the news - and it

worked to its advantage by pointing out that, although the Mail was

doing well, the Mirror wasn’t doing badly either.



The message is that the Mirror’s ’rejuvenation plan’, launched in

January 1997, is still bearing fruit. Comparing the August ABC figures

with those from December 1996 - the month before the plan started -

shows that the Mirror has put on 72,000 sales, an increase of 3.1 per

cent. Across this period its sales performance is second only to the

Mail’s - and the Mail’s cause was advanced substantially by the closure

of Today in 1995. In short, we shouldn’t forget the fact that the Mirror

is also on a roll - and, if it continues, it will re-establish clear

water between itself and the Mail.



But market perception is delicate business. Will advertisers view the

Mirror differently now that it has been overtaken? Roger Eastoe, the

managing director of Mirror Group’s national titles, sincerely hopes

not. He comments: ’When advertisers buy a schedule they take into

account the proportion that we command of any particular target market.

We reach a discrete audience and a considerable amount of that is solus.

Our increase in sales is reflected in an increase in readership on the

latest National Readership Surveys. Any self-respecting media planner or

buyer will recognise that the Mirror is increasing in value.’



Eastoe reveals that he is preparing to initiate part two of the

rejuvenation plan. He adds: ’We believe we can continue to build on what

we have already achieved. Next year will be very interesting.’



Are agencies ready to listen? Tim McCloskey, the deputy managing

director of BMP Optimum, argues that the Mirror has relatively little to

worry about. He says: ’I think that what the Mail is doing is incredibly

good for the newspaper business generally. It’s good to know that

someone can increase copy sales and readership and do it with

traditional marketing tools like promotions and, more importantly, the

strength of the product itself. They are bringing in people on the back

of promos and actually keeping them.’



And he believes that the Mirror should join with the rest of the

industry in acknowledging the Mail’s achievements. ’I think there is

very little overlap in terms of potential purchasers of the two titles,’

he says.



’The products are certainly in no way substitutable and for the Mirror

to chase the Mail would be misguided. It should concentrate on its own

product strengths and its own circulation. When you talk to newspaper

people these days, they judge success in terms of losing copies less

quickly than their rivals. That attitude isn’t any recipe for success,

is it? As for advertising - I don’t think there are any implications of

this particular event. In advertising terms, the only potential victim

of the Mail’s success is the Express.’



Laura James, the press buying director of New PHD, agrees with Eastoe’s

point about the Mail’s recent success story being traceable to the

closure of Today. She also agrees that the Mirror’s achievements should

not go unrecognised. ’With a combination of a much-improved product and

some good marketing tactics, it has finally stemmed the circulation

decline in a decreasing market.’



But as far as James is concerned, each title operates in a separate

marketplace.



’I do not believe a shift in dynamics will change the way we operate

between the two sectors in the short term - the Mail is not suddenly

going to become a hybrid between the red-tops and the midmarket, neither

is there going to be a shift in spend from the Mirror to the Mail. The

Mail has successfully used a number of tactics to build circulation -

which arguably could attract popular tabloid readers - but, so far, it

has managed to retain its demographic profile.’



Guy Zitter, the managing director of the Daily Mail, will be pleased to

hear that. The easy assumption to make is that the Mirror’s lost

purchases are exactly the same as the Mail’s gains. Zitter does want to

create a hybrid but it will have nothing to do with the red-top end of

the market.



He states: ’I’m not the greatest fan of the National Readership Surveys

at present (the Mail’s circulation gains have not been reflected in its

apparent readership figure) but if you look at the percentage of our

readers in the ABC1 demographic, the figure is moving up - it is now 29

per cent compared with 22 per cent ten years ago. You can’t say that of

the Telegraph or the Times or the Guardian.



’We regard it as crucial that the quality of our readership is

maintained as we continue to push up the circulation. I don’t want to

stop C2DEs buying the paper - a sale is a sale - but while the quality

of our readership is continuing to improve I’m not complaining.



’I’m trying to build the paper into a powerful cross between a tabloid

and a broadsheet - and the most lucrative advertising market is in the

Times-Telegraph area. We’ve shown that you can build circulation without

resorting to cover-price discounting. It’s down to the quality of our

journalists - and we have been spending vast amounts on writers.

Essentially, the Mirror’s competitor remains the Sun - and you have to

ask yourself whether either of those papers is interested in the type of

editorial quality we provide.’



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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).