Mr Straight prepares to take charge of a sales revolution

Claire Beale analyses Len Sanderson, in line to lead Telegraph/Express sales

Claire Beale analyses Len Sanderson, in line to lead Telegraph/Express

sales

For a man so publicly back-slapped for being Mr Straight, Len Sanderson

is perilously close to coming full circle.

The deputy managing director of the Telegraph group began life selling

ad space on the Express. He could soon be doing it again. For Sanderson

has a vision to create a new newspaper sales house (Campaign, 10 May).

The idea is to cut costs (staff, admin, research, systems) by pooling

the advertising resource of the Telegraph group and Express Newspapers.

It’s not something Sanderson is ready to talk about - officially - yet.

But he wastes no time in claiming it as his baby, in his usual

determinedly modest mode.

Caroline Marland, the managing director of the Guardian and Observer,

former colleague, fully paid-up member of the Sanderson fan club and

godmother to his son, says the sales house idea has been a Sanderson

dream for many years. ‘He’s quite evangelical about it, he’d rather be

doing this than anything else in the world.’

It’s revolutionary, it’s risky, it’s mould-breaking stuff. It’s all the

things that Sanderson hasn’t been able to enjoy for quite a long time.

He’s spent nine-and-a-half years at the Telegraph. Too long, some say.

He has built one of the most solid, respected and successful sales teams

around, but has Sanderson himself been getting stale? Maybe. Most agree

that this sales house idea is Sanderson’s chance for media immortality,

and he’s more likely to pull it off than most.

Sanderson - 43, cricket fanatic, golf enthusiast, family man,

competitive as hell - is used to breaking moulds. When he joined the

Telegraph he was hardly their usual sort of sales johnny. He didn’t go

to the right school. In fact he hardly had any education at all. And

then there’s the accent.

Definitely northern.

And his early career was hardly a good springboard for a would-be

Telegraph top dog. After leaving school at 15, Sanderson joined the

army, where he clearly learned the art of playing the tough bastard (an

act, he insists). Selling tobacco for Gallaher followed, then came the

Daily Express job, which he hated with a passion. He worked with Toby

Hoare, now the chief executive of Young and Rubicam, and they spent many

a lunchtime together at the pub wondering how to escape.

To the Express Newspapers’ beleaguered ad department - which has, let’s

face it, survived a pretty smelly time in the past 18 months - it could

seem like Sanderson is out for revenge. As one insider puts it:

‘Whenever there’s a merger, one side inevitably gets fucked. It looks

like it’s our turn.’

Sanderson’s loyalty to his own team is certainly clear: ‘If you surround

yourself with people who are better than you, you’re bound to succeed.’

But he is insistent that this will be a partnership: ‘I’m sure there are

staff there who could teach us a thing or two.’ There are no

preconceptions about the people structure, he says.

The rationale for the sales ‘merger’ is simple. Sales concentration, as

in the TV market over recent years, is the future of media sales,

Sanderson believes. And with the death of newspapers’ old baronial

structure, there’s more opportunity for co-operation between publishing

houses.

For co-operation don’t necessarily read conditional selling. This is

about maximising resource. An arm-twisting group sell may make sense in

TV where there are a relatively small number of advertisers spending a

lot of money. The newspaper ad business isn’t like that. ‘When I go out

to lunch with Edwin Sharpe [Unilever’s media manager], I have more money

in my wallet than he spends with us,’ Sanderson jokes. Buyer be

reassured, he says.

Perhaps Sanderson’s greatest asset, when it comes to reassuring

advertisers and media buyers, is his record of professional integrity.

Having spent four years of his career at the Guardian, Sanderson comes

stamped with that paper’s reputation for grooming excellent but entirely

decent sales people. John Ayling, a fellow cricketer - who clearly does

not bear a grudge against Sanderson for his brace of 100s at the Oval -

describes him as ‘logical, tough but fair and a great team player’.

Sanderson himself hopes that his peers regard him as straight. ‘I don’t

much care what people think of me at the end of the day,’ he braves. ‘I

wouldn’t like it if someone thought I was a shit though.’

If Sanderson can survive the next few crucial months and build his sales

house without being called a shit, he will indeed be a rare breed among

salesmen. Keep your ears pricked down at the Express.

The Sanderson file

1979 Daily Express, sales executive

1983 The Guardian, display ad manager

1987 The Telegraph,ÿ20display ad manager

1993 The Telegraph, director of ad sales

1994 The Telegraph, deputy managing director

1996 The Telegraph, engineers the creation of a Telegraph/Express sales

house

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