MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON: THE EXPRESS - New-look Express has yet to overcome long-term decline/Rosie Boycott’s revamped tabloid continues to lose readers

According to one commentator writing in a broadsheet last week, ’she is undoubtedly producing an intelligent, different and modern tabloid’.

According to one commentator writing in a broadsheet last week,

’she is undoubtedly producing an intelligent, different and modern

tabloid’.



The ’she’ in question is, of course, Rosie Boycott, who last week

completed her first year as editor of The Express.



She’s had some decent report cards, but even her fans admit that the

figures invite a more sober analysis. The best you can say about her

first 12 months is that she’s done much to arrest a circulation decline.

But as this decline has been unremitting since the mid-60s, it will take

more than a few months’ worth of decent figures to convince the market

that a historical trend is about to be reversed.



For the record, the first three months of this year weren’t bad on a

month-by-month basis, but March’s sales figure of 1,085,550 represented

a 7.42 per cent year-on-year decline. Boycott argues that this is

actually a huge success, given that she expected her radical approach to

cost 300,000 in short-term lost sales. Nice try.



The Express can count on a huge amount of goodwill from the advertising

industry. Nothing to do with altruism, you understand - buyers are less

than happy with the fact that the Daily Mail is so dominant in the

mid-market that it can basically charge what it wants. Which, say some

buyers, makes it all the more frustrating when the ad industry fails to

deliver when it’s given the chance.



We’re talking here about the first work for the paper by St Luke’s since

it won the account from Leo Burnett around the turn of the year. The TV

campaign featured a dynamic Boycott look-alike running around the office

and being ... er, dynamic. Many found it a cringe-making

embarrassment.



That’s only half the battle, though. Observers concede that, despite a

commitment to above-the-line spend, and although Boycott’s new editorial

broom is backed by a little more editorial funding, the paper remains

seriously under-resourced when compared with the Daily Mail.



Significantly, it’s also losing out in the promotions area - the Daily

Mail’s House of Fraser initiative earlier this year holed The Express’s

new marketing push below the waterline, for example.



While Boycott may be producing an intelligent, different and modern

tabloid, the big question remains - is it capturing the ad industry’s

imagination?



The fact that Boycott has taken a crusty, bad-tempered organ for old

golf club bores in blazers and changed it into a more modern, New

Labour-supporting newspaper is creditable. That she has done it with

relatively little fallout is remarkable. But many in the business argue

that this should be seen as merely a first step.



Chris Shaw, the joint managing director of Universal McCann, thinks that

Boycott’s achievements have been overstated. He comments: ’I don’t think

that Rosie Boycott has made much difference. That’s surprising given the

effect she had at The Independent. I don’t know whether she has

difficulties there culturally. I’d hoped she would make a noticeable

difference in a very short space of time. It had a little bit of respite

on the circulation front a couple of months ago but it’s still not

exactly good news. At the moment there’s still effectively only one

title in the mid-market.’



Laura James, the press director of NewPHD, is keen to be positive. But

she too points out that buyers need concrete results. ’The Sunday

Express is clearly still lagging well behind, but with The Express

itself I think the product has improved hugely. I don’t think many would

dispute that.



The problem is that it takes a lot of time for that to feed through into

circulation and readership figures. And though we have seen signs that

the decline is being arrested, you can’t get away from the fact that it

is still showing a year-on-year deficit. That tends to have an effect on

the way it is viewed by the advertising industry, I’m afraid.’



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