FORUM: Will the Independent’s new sales structure work? - Last week, Newspaper Publishing unveiled a new sales structure. One team is dedicated to the Independent on Monday to Friday, another sells the weekend - the Independent’s Saturday

When God was a boy, lots of people went to work on Saturdays. They’d do a full morning shift, knocking off at lunch with just enough time for a few pints before going to the football. Sunday was a day of rest. Church for some, long lie-ins for the less God-fearing, followed by a roast lunch.

When God was a boy, lots of people went to work on Saturdays.

They’d do a full morning shift, knocking off at lunch with just enough

time for a few pints before going to the football. Sunday was a day of

rest. Church for some, long lie-ins for the less God-fearing, followed

by a roast lunch.



And of course, more than anything, Sunday meant the Sunday papers.

Sunday demanded the plural not just because people bought more than one

title but because Sunday reading was an institution. In contrast, the

paper on Saturday was just like the paper on any other day of the

week.



Now Saturday newspapers are biog newspapers. Newspapers with a dozen or

more sections and supplements and, last week, Newspaper Publishing

became the first group to recognise that the weekend is now comprised of

two Sundays (or Saturdays). Its newly reconfigured sales operation has

two units: one covering the Saturday issue of the Independent and the

Independent on Sunday and another responsible for the Independent on the

five weekdays.



Many publishers have flirted in the past with supposedly seven-day

operations, but the Sunday title has always managed to keep its

separateness. According to Stephen Miron, the commercial director of

Newspaper Publishing, this new sales structure will recognise that in

editorial product, circulation and revenue terms, the daily market is

now very different from the weekend.



’Inevitably, this structure will highlight a statistical weakness in the

current presentation of ABC figures, where daily circulation figures are

incorporated within the Saturday sale,’ he points out. ’This benefits

newspapers whose daily average circulation figures are significantly

inflated by the Saturday sale and on the opposite side for agencies

gaining a significant price advantage for advertising across the

weekend. I hope now we’ll not only be able to provide a better level of

service to agencies but also offer a contemporary pricing policy which

reflects the true value to the client.’



This may not be an isolated development. Also last week, the Guardian

Media Group plucked Roger Alton from the relative tranquillity of the

Guardian features desk to succeed Will Hutton as editor of the

Observer.



It is no coincidence that the most impressive entry in Alton’s CV is his

success as the editor of the paper’s Weekend Guardian Saturday

supplement.



He has played no small part in building the paper’s Saturday

success.



Will he now bring a measure of continuity to the group’s weekend

offerings and would it be a logical next step to sell them as a

package?



No-one was available for comment at the Guardian and Observer but other

publishers are sceptical about the idea. Len Sanderson, the deputy

managing director of the Telegraph, won’t be tempted. He comments: ’What

if you are dealing with a retailer who has a history of using Thursday,

Friday or Saturday? Will they now have to deal with different people to

make one booking? How do they maintain consistency of prices across the

two teams? Sunday is very clearly a separate product and the advertisers

using it are different, but mainstream advertisers tend to want the

early main news section and the Saturday main newspaper isn’t much

different to the Friday newspaper.’



Apart from a few dissenters - those, for instance, who spend a lot of

money in weekend papers - Miron’s point about Saturday ABCs is echoed by

media specialists. They’ve been calling for daily figures for years.



But there’s a more ambiguous response to weekend sales teams.



Colin Gottlieb, managing partner of Manning Gottlieb Media, concedes

that it isn’t exactly a silly thing to do; in terms of the categories

likely to advertise, there is a close relationship between Saturday and

Sunday editions. ’It concentrates resources and the weekend is bloody

important so why not go for it? But I feel it is almost an admission

that Monday to Friday is relatively weak. It’s like saying that the

weekend people are the A-team and they can concentrate on their targets

without having any excuses about the distraction of selling the

weekdays, which can be dominated by more short-term stuff,’ he says.



Gottlieb is also sceptical about whether it reflects the way campaigns

are planned and bought. You don’t have press buyers who only buy weekend

titles, for instance. He adds: ’If we have to talk to a sales rep whose

responsibility is for, say, financial services, and then hold separate

conversations with the weekend rep and the weekday rep, the whole thing

could become cumbersome. I reckon this reflects the strengths and

weaknesses of the two Independent papers rather than an innovative way

of selling. I can’t see strong publishers like Associated rushing out to

copy them.’



Others are more enthusiastic. Marc Mendoza, the managing director of

Mediapolis, comments: ’I don’t think the argument about too much contact

is valid at all. Planners and buyers actually like extra contact. And a

weekend salesforce could be a very good thing, attracting advertisers

such as retailers that aren’t normally in the weekend, though it will

only really be appropriate at the broadsheet end of the market where the

weekend products really are different from the rest of the week.’



Even Mendoza, though, can see some potential problems. The two

salesforces could compete in an unproductive way, for instance. Agencies

could play one off against the other. ’It’s good to see Miron hasn’t

taken long to make his mark. I endorse Newspaper Publishing’s right to

try this sort of thing as well as its right to retreat from it without

any loss of face if it doesn’t work out. It had to do something to

regain the confidence of buyers and this is as good as any,’ he

adds.



Steve Goodman, press buying director of the Media Business Group, agrees

with some of that but proposes a tidier solution: ’Many clients’

schedules are either for weekdays or weekends. Yet it might make more

sense having one team dedicated to selling supplements and one dedicated

to selling news sections across the week. That’s the neatest divide -

clients tend to develop a supplement schedule and a general newspaper

schedule element to campaigns.’



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