Media Headliner: Davies wants to make Indy an institution again

Ian Darby meets Simon Davies, who, by moving from the Standard to The Independent, faces another daunting challenge.

As a man renowned for lunching daily at Le Caprice, Simon Davies has probably never tasted the stuff. Yet he's described by some in the media business as the ultimate "Marmite Man".

Love him or hate him, Davies is one of the most charismatic figures in media. His self-confidence may have taken a knock last year when, as the sales director at The Mail on Sunday, he was passed over for the job of running sales across Mail Newspapers. But now he's returning to national newspapers as the new commercial director of Independent Newspapers, replacing Daryl Fielding.

Having spent a year as the sales director of the London Evening Standard, which he describes as "always a short-term gig", Davies is moving a few metres over to The Indy, which, like the Standard, shares office space with Associated Newspapers.

Davies' move to Independent Newspapers may set tongues wagging that a deal with Alexander Lebedev, the majority owner of the Standard, is back on, but he refutes this and says that it's "just coincidence" that he's moving between the two titles.

In fact, he's probably the only man in media history who has held three jobs with different employers within a year and not moved buildings. Emotionally, though, Davies claims to have travelled a great distance.

He admits that "it was shame the way I had to leave a company I respect" when he departed from The Mail on Sunday and says it prompted a period of self-reflection.

"I have rebranded myself," Davies says. "In this climate, everybody has had to. I've really been thinking about who I am and what I'm good at and I realised I'm a very good troubleshooter. I can build a business up and this is about having more discipline. I'm a less flamboyant guy - my wild days are gone. I've moved from hanging out at Cartier polo to fishing with Steve Platt."

Speaking to Campaign at a brasserie near his Sloane Square apartment, Davies sips sparkling water and claims that this follows a ten-mile bike ride and two hours in the gym. He says he still eats at Le Caprice occasionally but is now in the gym three lunchtimes a week. "And the people I hang around with in the evening are not necessarily in media," he adds.

That said, a great asset for The Independent is the Davies contacts book. Dominic Williams, the press director at Carat, says: "Simon went to the Standard and got revenues up. He's such a big character and knows a lot of clients and it's great that he's going back to a national newspaper at a very difficult time. The Independent has got the right person in the right place."

Davies replaces Fielding, who, in the words of The Independent's managing director, Simon Kelner, introduced a layer of "necessary strategic thinking". However, she was from a creative agency and not a trader by background - something that The Indy arguably needs in a tough market.

Nick Theakstone, the chief executive of Group M, says: "Simon is very high profile and has good contacts. He can cut a deal and drive revenue into a place that desperately needs it. He's a grown-up with real drive and enthusiasm and has this infectious personality that makes him good with clients. He's a bloody good appointment."

Kelner adds: "In a market as difficult as this, we need every contact he's got."

The challenge for Davies, though, will be immense. He describes the Standard as having been in "A&E in bandages" when he moved there and the situation at Independent Newspapers looks similar.

It's been hit harder than most by the downturn and a bad corporate situation, with shareholders at the parent company, Independent News & Media, scrapping over its future, hasn't helped. Last month, INM's second-largest shareholder, Denis O'Brien, claimed that The Independent would be closed by Christmas because "there's no point in us subsidising a paper that nobody wants to read".

However, Davies says that the INM chief executive, Gavin O'Reilly, and Kelner have convinced him that INM is fully behind The Indy. He says that the focus will be on communicating the strengths of the titles' AB readership rather than on its circulation.

Davies recognises that it's all too easy to take The Independent off a media schedule and wants six months to convince agencies that it's just as easy to put back on. He says: "The editorial strength of the product is immense but it's lost its way. Everything from distribution to the size and shape (of the newspaper) is up for grabs but the foundations are strong. There was a high measure of empathy for the brand that was only lost when issues of corporate instability came into the equation. It was a solid media institution and it needs to be an institution again."

He says he wants to engage with agencies and clients "from day one" in the rebuilding process and adds that he has a clear focus to improve revenues within a year: "It's a brand the O'Reillys have invested hundreds of millions in and I'm there to make sure the P&L looks better in a year's time."

So, while the Independent titles might be on the equivalent of life support, don't bet against a fighting-fit Davies breathing some life into them.

THE LOWDOWN
Age: 43
Lives: Chelsea
Family: Freddie, nine, and Oliver, seven
Most treasured possession: My friends and my boys
Last book read: Starting A Business At 40
Interests: Golf, skiing, friends

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