MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT - Telegraph's straightest bat declares after 17 years

Len Sanderson's chance to be managing director has passed, Alasdair Reid says.

They don't do anything by halves at the Telegraph Group these days, do they? First, it takes the uncharacteristically radical step of appointing a Daily Telegraph editor, Martin Newland, who is in no way fogeyish, either by instinct or affectation.

When Newland's appointment was announced, Telegraph sources were clearly torn between giving way to a genuine excitement and buckling down to a more circumspect corporate line that emphasised a sense of continuity.

Now, with the appointment of Hugo Drayton as the group managing director to succeed Jeremy Deedes on his retirement, plus a cascade of other promotions, any attempt to play the old "evolution rather than revolution" card may look rather implausible.

This is clearly the end of an era - especially with the realisation that Len Sanderson, the managing director of Telegraph Sales, and one of the straightest bats the commercial side of the newspaper industry has ever seen, is choosing this opportunity to move on. He's been at the Telegraph Group for 17 years (he joined not long after Conrad Black took over) and it is widely assumed that, having had his eye on the managing director's role for a number of years, he has recognised that his chance has gone.

He will be missed - and actually, when you call media buyers to ask them what they think of The Telegraph revolution, their first thought is: "Where's Len going?"

"That's very flattering," Sanderson admits. "With the coming restructure, the issue was whether I stayed in the same kind of job I've been doing or look at the opportunity to do something different."

Sanderson's departure is the end of an era for the whole industry too.

It was once common to find people with his sort of background (an ex-Army PT instructor and semi-professional cricketer for both Somerset and Warwickshire) pitching up in ad sales. It's relatively rare to find that sort of stuff on a media CV these days.

Sanderson is pursuing a number of options - and he may choose to go down the "portfolio" route. He already has one senior non-executive directorship of a publicly quoted company and may seek to pick up a number of similar roles. Although it's unlikely he will want to work for a rival newspaper publishing group (especially in an executive role, though never say never, he muses), there are plenty of other avenues to explore in the media and communications sector.

But back to The Telegraph. From a media buyer's point of view, the most important aspect of the reshuffle is the move of Chris White-Smith from display ad director to the newly created position of group sales director.

Mark Payne, currently the deputy ad director and commercial director of Hollinger Telegraph New Media, moves to another new role - group commercial director.

White-Smith says he is very keen to join in the appreciation of Sanderson's role in the group's development. "We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Len for getting us to where we are," he states. But he is equally clear about the challenges ahead: "We are very positive about the future and a lot of that optimism about the future stems from the appointment of Martin Newland as editor. What we do all comes back to the success we have as a product and it's clear that Martin has all the right instincts."

That's yet to be seen, of course - but they aren't going to be lounging about on the sales side waiting for the Newland factor to bear fruit.

There are other structural issues to be addressed. In particular, the new creed is going to be dominated by "integration". In the past, assets such as the company's database and its digital properties have tended to be run as separate units.

Now there's going to be more emphasis on presenting agencies with a more comprehensive picture of what the group has on offer. "There are many reasons why this is desirable but the short answer is customers," White-Smith says. "Media buying agencies are keen to go down that path and in general they are looking for ways to develop partnerships rather than just negotiating advertising contracts."

So, what do buyers themselves think about these changes at the paper?

Mark Gallagher, the head of press at Manning Gottlieb OMD, argues that it's all very positive. He says: "Hugo Drayton and Martin Newland are both very commercial in their outlook. That in itself is encouraging. I think we'll see The Telegraph become even more proactive."

Paul Thomas, MindShare's press director, agrees: "Len had huge amounts of experience and obviously will be hard to replace. Another important factor was the way that Len and Chris (White-Smith) worked together as a team. So it will be interesting to see how a new team evolves. The Telegraph has been hit quite hard because the financial sector hasn't picked up and there have been worries at a group level, which means they haven't invested as much in the product as perhaps they'd have liked to. On the sales side, you have to have a product to sell and, if it isn't evolving, it looks as if the momentum isn't there. So I think it's true that much of this depends on how well the new editor does."

There's a widespread belief, though, that after a protracted period in the doldrums, The Telegraph may now have a real sense of momentum behind it as we move out of recession. Roy Jeans, the managing director of Magna Global UK, would actually go further. He sees this as part of a hugely encouraging trend in the newspaper business as a whole.

He states: "We've seen quite a lot of new blood coming through recently and a sense of energy returning to the newspaper medium. The emergence of the Newspaper Marketing Agency is part and parcel of that but with individual newspaper groups there's a feeling they are reinvigorating themselves. What's been happening at The Telegraph is part of that."

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