Media: All about ... The Daily Mail

M&C's appointment marks a new era for the title, Alasdair Reid writes.

It's something of an understatement to point out that the Daily Mail's appointment of M&C Saatchi to its £35 million ad account represents the end of an era.

It brings to an end the Mail's relationship with the veteran adman Brian Watson, who has been responsible for the paper's advertising for almost 30 years - first with FCB, then (the account following him when he jumped ship in 2006) more latterly with The Law Firm.

In 1980, he was brought in to work on the paper's relaunch as a tabloid with a more pronounced slant towards its female readers. And his ability to meet the exact-ing standards of its editors - first David English, then Paul Dacre - has played at least some part in its subsequent success.

He's been recognised by the Guinness World Records as the creative who's produced the most career ads for a single client; and for achieving the fastest-ever TV commercial turnaround - three-and-a-half hours - from brief to on-air.

Because, of course, that's the way some (most, in fact) newspapers work. They tend to demand tactical and promotional work airing in Friday TV peaktime - and, such is the nature of the deadline adrenaline they're addicted to, they like to fly by the seats of their pants.

M&C has embarked on a steep learning curve - though it will point out that it is by no means a complete ingenue, having handled some project work (mainly branding initiatives) for the Mail over the past few months. And the business hasn't entirely left the Watson family either - by a cute coincidence, Brian's daughter works for M&C.

For the Mail's part, you can argue that a quiet revolution at Associated Newspapers, undertaken by its ultimate leader, the Daily Mail & General Trust chairman, Lord Rothermere, and carried out zealously by a small band of commissars, not least Mail Newspapers' managing director, Guy Zitter, is now complete.

A restructuring process, under a new umbrella structure, had begun in September 2008; and a new approach to advertising was almost inevitable when Associated created a powerful new marketing role, filled earlier this year by Roland Agambar.

1. Agambar joined in February 2009 as the chief marketing officer, from News International, where he'd been the head of marketing at The Sun and the News of the World. He reports to Zitter.

2. DMGT had begun restructuring in September 2008, when all of the newspaper and digital assets of both Associated and Northcliffe Media were brought together in one division called A&N Media. Kevin Beatty, previously the group managing director of Associated, became the division's chief executive.

A month later, Zitter, the Daily Mail's managing director, stepped up into the new position of managing director of Mail Newspapers, with responsibilities for the Mail, The Mail on Sunday and Mail Digital. Sales teams were merged, with John Teal appointed to oversee the new operation as the group advertising director.

3. In May, the division's holding company, DMGT, reported a pre-tax loss of £239 million for the six months to March 2009 - although much of the damage was down to extraordinary commitments relating to acquisitions in previous years.

However, Associated remained in the black, though revenues were down 10 per cent year on year to £455 million (display advertising in particular was down 16 per cent to £150 million) and operating profit was down 59 per cent to £18 million. A trading statement in September, ahead of full-year results due in November, confirmed that ad revenues were still declining.

And DMGT's overall position will impact on the Mail's short- and medium-term strategic outlook. There have been redundancies across all parts of the group - and, in March, Associated announced a one-year pay freeze.

4. The Mail's recent success in the digital domain - its website now has the largest traffic of any UK newspaper site - is another important factor in the brand's evolution. This success has taken many by surprise, especially given a widespread belief in the industry that the company lacked a strategic vision where the web was concerned.

Consequently, rivals have sought desperately to belittle its success in vaulting both guardian.co.uk and telegraph.co.uk to become the top digital newspaper dog in the past three months' online circulation figures, with more than 28 million unique users.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...

THE DAILY MAIL

- It will be fascinating to see how the company's national newspaper properties evolve within their newly centralised, rather monolithic support structure.

- And marketing may provide the greatest potential for inner tension. In the past, the Mail editor, Paul Dacre, took the lead where advertising initiatives were concerned - though Zitter always played an important part.

- Having created a new chief marketing officer role, they will have to give its first incumbent, Roland Agambar, every opportunity to show it can work - but Dacre, in particular, will not find it easy to bite his tongue if he feels that M&C's work is failing to hit the spot.

M&C SAATCHI

- This, especially initially, could be a scary ride. Many agency creatives tend to be intimidated by (and subsequently resentful of) clients who are well versed in making snap judgments about the flimsiness or otherwise of ideas - and do so without mincing their words.

- There's a fairly widespread view in the advertising community that, when it comes down to it, newspaper proprietors are visual illiterates and cultural Philistines - and that they should be taught to focus less on promotions and more on branding.

- So some at M&C may have to get used to the idea that preciousness is soon punished. That said, even in these straitened times, this account will provide alluring opportunities to shine. The agency will particularly relish the opportunity to show that it can use cross-platform means to promote a cross-platform brand.

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