NEWSMAKER: KELVIN MACKENZIE - Tabloid giant punches his weight at Mirror Group/Kelvin MacKenzie’s vision embraces news and sport. ANNA GRIFFITHS investigates

Kelvin MacKenzie, Mirror Group’s new deputy chief exec-utive and group managing director, is in a pretty good mood. The Mirror has scooped the Sun on the love letters of Diana, Princess of Wales, to James Hewitt, which were handed in by Hewitt’s vengeful and presumably now ex-fiancee, Anna Ferretti. In these more ’honourable’ times - post-Diana and the backlash against tabloid journalism - the Mirror has graciously handed the letters back to the Palace. It’s a double whammy for MacKenzie’s protege, Piers Morgan, and the perfect back-up for MacKenzie’s claim that Mirror Group is on the up.

Kelvin MacKenzie, Mirror Group’s new deputy chief exec-utive and

group managing director, is in a pretty good mood. The Mirror has

scooped the Sun on the love letters of Diana, Princess of Wales, to

James Hewitt, which were handed in by Hewitt’s vengeful and presumably

now ex-fiancee, Anna Ferretti. In these more ’honourable’ times -

post-Diana and the backlash against tabloid journalism - the Mirror has

graciously handed the letters back to the Palace. It’s a double whammy

for MacKenzie’s protege, Piers Morgan, and the perfect back-up for

MacKenzie’s claim that Mirror Group is on the up.



I have come to the Canary Wharf offices to hear a defence of the Mirror,

which is fighting against the looming spectre of the Daily Mail, and to

hear how the Mirror is going to fill a new niche in the newspaper

market. MacKenzie states that in March the ABC audit for the Mirror will

reveal a slight fall of 1 per cent, but this is a small hiccup compared

with the inexorable decline in the three months to December to a

circulation of 2.2 million - a hair’s breadth away from the Daily

Mail.



’It’s not a triumph,’ MacKenzie says. ’But it’s a beginning and, by God,

we needed a start.’ According to other newspaper groups, the hiccup

could have been a nasty belch if it had not been for the generous

Ladbrokes offer that topped up the overall circulation a little. Does

MacKenzie like the practice of bulk sales? ’Personally, I’m not in

favour of it but, in relation to the Ladbroke deal, it’s part of the

flat season and it’s part of a deal done every year.’



The man who transformed tabloid journalism during his 13-year tenure as

editor of the Sun, and introduced us to News Bunny and topless darts

during his three-year reign at Live TV, says it’s time for a bit of

serious news journalism. ’I believe people are bright. People are

capable of absorbing more intelligent information without ending up with

furrowed brows. So the Mirror becomes more intelligent, but that does

not mean it pushes away populism.’



At a time when politics is converging into an amorphous central path,

the Mirror has lost its ’lefty’ working-man’s stance, while the Sun has

skipped over from its Tory corner and taken up Blair’s cause. The Mirror

is left with the dilemma of differentiating itself from its rivals and

finding new brand values. The picture-heavy front page has vanished

since MacKenzie’s arrival in January - the emphasis is now on news and

scoops.



’It’s become serious,’ MacKenzie insists. ’One of the issues facing the

Mirror was that we were going narrower and narrower in our tabloid diet

of sex surveys and soap stars. It’s certainly true that politics has

moved to the centre, and the big issue that would have divided us - the

trade union versus the employers - isn’t dead, but it’s on the back

burner. The big issues today are social ones. Jack Cunningham (Minister

of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) says we can’t eat beef on the bone -

a newspaper like the Mirror should say you can get stuffed, our readers

want to eat beef on the bone.’



MacKenzie is adamant that he leaves editing to the editors - more or

less. ’I do not edit newspapers. I do have a view after the event, and

on some issues before. I set the guidelines for it, but the editors

edit.’



Morgan says: ’Kelvin has made no attempt since he’s been in the managing

role to edit the news-paper. He’s been a massive spur to all of us here.

He’s determined to direct us back to basics. The answer is going back to

great news and great features - remove the trickery and gimmicks which

were tactics we relied on.’



While the daily title merely needs a bit of spit and polish, the Sunday

title is precarious - in February’s ABC audit it lagged 2.4 million

copies behind the News of the World. Within days of MacKenzie’s

appointment, the Sunday Mirror’s editor, Bridget Rowe, was replaced by

Brendan Parsons.



’The title that remains problematic for us is the Sunday Mirror,’

MacKenzie admits. ’Although it’s had fresh investment, it still hasn’t

achieved a vibrant personality or a clear role. It needs to be more

glitzy and positioned in a slightly wider market. It causes us the most

headaches.’ MacKenzie claims the downward sales trend of the Sunday

People - which is now edited by Neil Wallis, the former deputy editor of

the Sun - is about to reverse following a 10p price cut.



While he is recharging the batteries of the daily newspaper division,

MacKenzie is stirring the sports newspapers pot. Publication of the

Sporting Life will be suspended from 9 May. It will be relaunched as a

daily sports newspaper in the autumn. The Sporting Life racing coverage

will be incorporated into the Racing Post, which Mirror Group bought at

the end of last year. MacKenzie comments: ’We want to focus on getting

the Racing Post off the ground before looking at other

opportunities.’



MacKenzie is also keen to sharpen the commercial side of the business

and is looking to appoint a deputy to Roger Eastoe, managing director of

Mirror Group. ’We are hiring someone from the fmcg area, a deputy

managing director for Roger. We will hire from outside the newspaper

business because I want to bring in fresh blood and thought processes.

We want them to have new ideas.’ No doubt there are other tricks up

MacKenzie’s sleeve.



His bulldozing determination makes him perfectly suited to the most

challenging jobs. He may have found his six-month spell as managing

director of Sky TV under the critical eye of the chief executive, Sam

Chisholm, an experience he’d rather forget, but it knocked him into

shape for Live TV. Christine Walker, founder of Walker Media who has

worked with MacKenzie, says: ’The experience of running Live TV, where

the commercial realities were sobering, has been a tremendous one for

Kelvin. And working with Sam will have been uplifting for him in

retrospect. He will fight. He took the cable industry to court to

enforce a distribution deal and won. That’s a commercial focus.’



There can be no doubt that MacKenzie’s presence, while imbuing terror in

some, has also livened up the grey walls of Mirror Group. Eastoe says:

’Kelvin’s injected a lot of day-to-day dynamism into the business. He’s

prepared to empower people and give them their heads, and has created an

extremely convivial atmosphere, which includes an element of humour.

Maybe we’ve been a bit too dour.’ According to Morgan, Kelvin’s

worshipped at the Mirror. ’There have been horrible bowel-twitching

moments - Kelvin’s a legend when he comes up to the editorial floor -

not that he needs any encouragement. The journalists enjoy it.’



Residing in his large black executive chair, clothed in a conventional

grey suit, MacKenzie seems a different man to the one who once plonked a

wet kiss on my cheek during a Live TV bash before stumbling back to the

dance floor. But get MacKenzie on to the subject of Live TV and its

latest jaunts and he reveals an earthier side.



’We’re doing a number of TV feature films for the US market on a

love-and-war theme. We’ve got Tiananmen Square, the Love Story - it’s a

cracker.



A US reporter drags a beautiful Chinese dissident from under the tracks

of a tank, they fall in forbidden love and live happily ever after in

San Francisco. There’s Schindler of Sarajevo, and a Berlin Wall

epic.’



MacKenzie quashes any suggestion that Live TV was a relaxing break from

newspapers. ’The business was exacting. When we first started out, if

you could find people watching us, we would send them a prize. Now a lot

of shows get over 100,000 viewers.’



And MacKenzie’s ambitions? ’That Mirror Group titles will become

fantastic and be perceived to be fantastic. And that the Mirror will one

day pass the Sun. If that happened, somebody could take me outside and

shoot me.’



Topics

Become a member of Campaign from just £46 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk ,plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content

Share

1 Stop and stare at what these nine brands did for the eclipse

You don't have to shield your eyes from social media during an eclipse - brands from DoubleTree by Hilton to Pizza Hut have found creative ways to capitalise on the total solar eclipse.

Share

1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).