Will the Sunday Express’s latest repositioning work? Alasdair Reid
Being the editor of a national newspaper must be a bit like being the
England football manager - everyone thinks they can do the job better
than you can and the best result you can ever hope for is a nil-nil
Sue Douglas, though, has probably had more advice than most since taking
up the editorship of the Sunday Express in January. It has been a long
time since the title had anything remotely like a victory - and it has
been suffering awful punishment courtesy of the Mail on Sunday. The
circulation of the Sunday Express is 1.3 million, the circulation of the
Mail on Sunday is considerably more than that at 2.1 million.
Last week, Douglas unveiled the latest stage of plans to turn the title
around - giving Walsh Trott Chick Smith the task of coming up with the
creative work on a new pounds 6 million campaign. There are few people
better qualified to deliver the goods than Dave Trott: at GGT he had an
extensive involvement on both the Daily Mirror and the Sunday Mirror
This time he’ll have his work cut out. His brief is to extend the
title’s appeal from a predominantly older readership to embrace younger
readers, without turning it into a youth-oriented publication.
Heard this somewhere before? Of course you have. Every mid-market and
broadsheet paper has come up with this sort of mission statement at one
time or another. Usually they fail spectacularly. Is the Sunday Express
going to be any different?
No, is the short answer from Peter Bowman, the media research director
of WCRS. According to his recent analysis of TGI data, the Sunday
Express is read by ‘Victor Meldrews’ - old and grumpy male
traditionalists. They take great pleasure from gardening, they buy
British whenever they can, they think that there is far too much concern
about environmental issues and they believe that a woman’s place is in
‘It’s madness and almost certain disaster for the Sunday Express to go
ahead with a radical repositioning,’ he warns. ‘It’s true that there
isn’t a middle of the road newspaper for a younger audience. But that
begs the classic question - there may be a gap in the market, but is
there a market in the gap?
‘And that’s not the biggest problem. Even if there was a market, it
would be asking an awful lot for the Sunday Express to position itself
in the gap. Its readers are attitudinally the oldest in the newspaper
market and it would be attempting, in positioning terms, to leapfrog the
Mail on Sunday. It would be a huge leap to make - a very dangerous leap
in the dark.’
He points out that, despite the best efforts of various publishers, the
demographic profiles of newspapers are static. The Daily Telegraph
talked a good game for a while, adopting a slicker look and hiring token
iconoclasts like Tony Parsons to write columns. But the average age of
your average Telegraph reader remains 50.
Bowman argues that the Sunday Express should focus on its strength -
become, to use a broadcast analogy, a gold title majoring on gardening
and personal finance.
Bill Jones, the deputy chairman of MediaCom, admits he doesn’t have any
better ideas. ‘They’ve been talking about making the Sunday Express a
younger paper on and off for a decade,’ he points out. ‘If you’ve been a
regular Sunday Express reader you must be in a permanent state of
confusion. From what I understand of its new plans, the Sunday Express
is admitting that all it has done in the past has failed.
‘It’s not that bad a newspaper, it’s just that the competition is so
much stronger. I think many people would like to see the Sunday Express
come up with a really radical approach rather than just more tinkering.’