Opinion: Question Time With ... - Richard Webb/The News Group general manager got ahead on his bike

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.

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

companies.’



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

concern.



’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

demand.’



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.’



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