Media: All about ... The Mail on Sunday

Will the MoS's 'upgrade' appease readers and advertisers, Ian Darby asks.

Back in 2007, The Mail on Sunday seemed to be sprinkled with stardust. Its glittering successes included the offer of the new Prince album, Planet Earth, as part of its package. A move billed, in an era when hyperbole seemed entirely appropriate, as "the greatest newspaper giveaway ever".

And the results arguably justified the hype, adding some 600,000 to the paper's average sale. At times, though, the title also seemed emblematic of some of the excesses and over-reaching of the time - critics accused it of hubris when it made moves such as launching its You magazine on newsstands. Yet there was no doubting the newspaper was confident and saw itself as leading the Sunday market.

The title was a female stronghold, and advertisers loved it. It also made strides to embrace men with the relaunch of its listings section Night & Day as a male-focused entertainment title called Live, and it ramped up its sports coverage to complement its occasionally agenda-setting news.

After the battering taken by newspapers during 2009, this recent golden era might be almost forgotten, but last Sunday the title attempted to recapture some of the magic with editorial changes designed to engage new readers and bring in advertising revenue.

Not that MoS management, led by the editor, Peter Wright, and the managing director, Marcus Rich, would admit that the title needs to reclaim lost ground. The pair are adamant that the changes do not constitute a redesign but represent an "upgrade" or "improvement" in the offer. While it's encouraging to see any investment in a newspaper in such a tough climate, it will be interesting to see to what degree the move pays dividends.

1. The Mail on Sunday was launched by Associated Newspapers in 1982 but was not an instant success. After a difficult first few months, the publisher ordered a redesign, which was led by the then Daily Mail editor David English, to turn around its fortunes after missing its target circulation of around 1.2 million. Wright has been at the helm of the title since 1998. Rich took the managing director role a year ago, replacing Stephen Miron.

2. Its circulation, in common with the majority of national titles, fell during 2009. In 2007, at the height of the Prince promotion, the MoS's circulation stood at around 2.3 million, peaking at 2,800,846 for the "Prince" issue in July 2007. Now it hovers perilously close to dipping below the two million mark with a November 2009 circulation of 2,071,526. This was down 4 per cent year on year.

3. The editorial changes to the MoS come, according to Rich, at the right time. He says: "The newspaper market had a hard 2009 in terms of advertising revenue and circulation and this is an opportunity to refresh and upgrade. It's a good opportunity to stimulate the Sunday market." While there won't be significant changes to the front of the main news section and the flagship You supplement, the tweaks embrace changes to the male-focused Live magazine, which include increasing page size and moving to a premium matt paper stock.

Other changes, which may prove important to advertisers, include the move of the travel section back into the main paper from The Mail on Sunday 2 section. This, in turn, will result in an MoS2 section more squarely focused on arts and criticism. In a further move to appeal to male readers, the football pull-out will become a broader sports pullout section - something that, in Rich's words, will enable "him to read the sport while she reads the main paper".

4. Changes are supported by a two-week TV ad campaign from the MoS's agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, which has introduced the new line "It's what inside that matters" to emphasise the depth of the editorial package on offer. In addition, the MoS will promote the first ten issues of the tweaked title with a 36-page puzzle book designed to lure additional readers. Rich says that CD promotions will continue but that they will form just part of the MoS's promotional strategy.

5. Advertisers will be made aware of the changes through a commercial team led by the ad director of Mail Newspapers, John Teal. A merged Daily Mail and MoS sales operation was created in November 2008, resulting in redundancies and a new approach to selling the titles.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...

READERS

- In theory, a stronger package for older male readers. The increased pagination and paper quality of Live is an attempt to better target the 35-plus male market of former FHM readers now consuming ShortList and Men's Health. And a pull-out sports section, which replaces a standalone football section, is also part of the new package.

- A more prominent travel section, which moves back into the main paper, and an MoS2 section more focused on arts and criticism.

ADVERTISERS

- Despite circulation declines during 2009, albeit less significant than many of its rivals, the MoS remains a significant vehicle for advertisers with its circulation hovering just above the two million mark.

- However, MoS ad revenue declined worryingly during 2009 with some media agencies questioning whether it had been wise to merge its commercial operations with those of the Daily Mail.

- But senior Associated figures insist that the editorial changes indicate that it is listening intently to advertisers. John Teal, the ad director of Mail Newspapers, says: "It's great to be investing money in the product and we can go out and talk about an upgraded product. We have this reputation of being arrogant and not listening but for the travel sector we have listened and made changes and hopefully revenue will follow."

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