MEDIA: FORUM - New blood takes over newspaper groups

Are we witnessing a generational change at the top of the national newspaper groups? Alasdair Reid investigates.

A couple of weeks back it was all change at The Daily Telegraph.

Last week it was the turn of Associated Newspapers. Mike Ironside, who has been the managing director of The Mail on Sunday for the past four years, resigned to make way for Stephen Miron.

Miron, who was previously the commercial director of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday, returned to Associated last year to revamp Loot and take charge of Associated's new-media activities - but he is known to be highly regarded by senior management and further career progress was not entirely unexpected.

His appointment was not the first major change recently at The Mail on Sunday - back in the summer, it replaced its ad director, Sue Dear, with Simon Davies, who has been remodelling his team. Last year, Metro's former managing director, Mike Anderson, replaced Sally de la Bedoyere as the Evening Standard's managing director.

Changes at the Telegraph Group, announced a couple of weeks ago, were triggered by the retirement of Jeremy Deedes and the subsequent appointment of Hugo Drayton to the role of group managing director. There have been (albeit minor in comparison) changes at News International and Mirror Group Newspapers is in the middle of a period of transition under its new chief executive, Sly Bailey.

Are we going through a generational change in the upper echelons of the newspaper business? If so, why is it happening? Some might say that the recession appears to be drawing to an end and is being used as an excuse to do a bit of overdue tidying up. On the other hand, it could be part of a more fundamental desire to change the way that the medium is marketed, bought and sold.

Drayton says there seems to be something afoot: "It's true that newspaper management has been stable for a long time and there have been many people who've been around for a long time. And it's not just the fact that some, such as Deedes here, are retiring. They aren't necessarily linked by age - it's more of a generational thing, they are linked by the fact that they all came to prominence in the same era. There are lots of talented people who, until this point, haven't risen as high up the ladder as they hoped. Now there's a new burst of energy across the medium."

He also points out that if you look at the people coming through, they have all had experience in digital media. Whether that has worked out for the companies involved is neither here nor there - Drayton argues they're in a position now to take what they have learned back into print media.

Does the rest of the market agree with this analysis? Tim McCloskey, a managing partner of OMD UK, remains to be convinced that we're seeing the arrival of an exciting new wave. He says: "I certainly believe the changes are coincidental and all are due to very different circumstances. That noted, I have been surprised by the proprietors' recent decisions and I'm not sure how some people are so right for the job one week and wrong the next. When many senior commercial people are fired or retired or disappear it raises eyebrows. Even the biggest advocates of papers question some decisions. These changes in personnel will not change the way business is done, but we can expect some changes in sales policies, which may disrupt some agency-seller relationships."

Roy Jeans, the managing director of Magna Global, is reconsidering his views on this subject. A couple of weeks ago, he was waxing lyrical about a new mood abroad in the newspaper business, arguing that the Newspaper Marketing Agency was helping to focus and channel a new sense of purpose as we come out of recession. But now he's not quite so sure that we're seeing a true, industry-wide step change in management philosophy. "I think the changes in the nationals reflect a series of micro decisions that do not translate into some sort of macro strategy," he states.

Paul Philpott, the commercial director of Toyota, says he's yet to see any tangible change in emphasis in his dealings with the major newspaper groups. "In many respects, the newspaper industry remains traditional in its approach," he says. "It's true that a couple of the quality titles have been better than the others at identifying opportunities and have been coming up with well-thought-through opportunities for broader media tie-ups. I would encourage newspaper groups to do more of that."

So perhaps the movement of personnel can be seen as a timely change of the guard at a time when papers need to modernise. But this seems to be down to decisions made on a small, local level rather than a grand industry strategy.

- "Newspapers through the ages have always been good at reinventing themselves and coming through tough trading times. The past few years have been tough and many in the medium have been wondering where it's going. Now we're finding energy and direction."

Hugo Drayton group managing director, Telegraph Group

- "Losing popular, senior figures who have been strong advocates for their company and the business at large weakens a paper's image unless the new boss better answers the brief in the future. The jury is effectively out on that one."

Tim McCloskey managing partner, OMD UK

- "The changes at Trinity Mirror are driven by a change of chief executive while the other changes have been occasioned because of specific, localised issues. The beauty of our business is that it is pretty meritocratic and is not driven by anything but the bottom line."

Roy Jeans managing director, Magna Global

- "Newspaper publishers who think more creatively about working with advertisers and creating innovative partnership opportunities are likely to get a larger proportion of our spend - providing they remain relevant and deliver an audience relevant to our needs."

Paul Philpott commercial director, Toyota.

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