Almost five years ago, Richard Webb crossed the great divide.
Forsaking the attractions of Soho agency land, he arrived at News
International’s Fortress Wapping on something of a mission.
His agency-based perception of newspaper sales teams was that behemoths
like The Sun and the News of the World had traded for too long on their
sheer size and had become complacent.
’In a fragmenting market, it is no longer enough to have a powerful,
cost-efficient brand,’ argues Webb.
’We must understand how our medium can contribute to the ad process, and
that is something that has been noticeably absent in large media
His first step towards this goal was to beef up the newspapers’ research
department. Webb then went on to ’empower’ the sales teams at The Sun
and News of the World, polishing their rough edges and cultivating a
more sophisticated approach to the craft of media selling.
’We’re now in a position to add something to our clients’ planning
process,’ Webb says. A fortnight ago, he followed the lead of most other
national newspapers and merged the teams into one department that
cross-sells both titles.
This move coincided with his promotion to general manager of News Group
Newspapers. While retaining the advertising director’s role, the new
post enables him to take on new responsibilities, including the
marketing of the papers. So declining circulation becomes a double
’Falling copy sales is a real issue and one that we are working hard to
remedy,’ admits Webb. However, given increasing competition from the
likes of Metro - which he admits has got its hooks into a soft
underbelly of Sun readers - he feels his papers are holding up well.
’There’s plenty of life left in national newspapers and we continue to
offer advertisers the cheapest route to a mass market,’ he says. ’And
unlike television, which is having to squeeze out fmcg advertisers for
dotcom clients, we can expand our advertising capacity to meet
Webb came to News Group after telling managing director Clive Milner
over lunch that he was bored at Optimedia and was looking for a move
into the embryonic satellite TV industry. After 19 years in media
buying, he felt he needed a bigger stage.
’When I arrived here I was struck by the sheer size of the business -
the money involved, the number of people and the complexity of the
operation,’ he recalls. Having sold nothing before in his life, Webb’s
appointment was viewed with some scepticism by his new staff and he went
through a steep learning curve.
But Webb feels he has brought other qualities that compensate for his
lack of sales experience. ’I understand the agenda of agencies and
clients in a way that sales people wouldn’t,’ he says. He also claims to
have replaced the autocratic management style of newspapers with the
more collegiate approach found in agencies.
One senses that he misses the agency scene to an extent. He still mixes
with agency pals, including Optimedia’s managing director Simon Mathews,
with whom he shares a passion for motorbikes - Webb has a 1000cc Honda
Firestorm. But he recalls some advice he was given at the start of his
career. ’LWT’s Craig Pearman told me: ’Start in agencies - it’s a lot of
fun. But to make real money, be a sales director.’
Webb’s advice to sales executives
’Care about advertising and don’t be obsessed with white space or
airtime. Think about the purpose and get involved in the whole
advertising process. If you don’t, then you are limiting your potential.
Sales people can add creative value.’