Andy Mullins targets ad growth for Indy's i in year two

Andrew Mullins, the managing director of one year old i newspaper, has an intriguing reminder boldly scrolled across his office wall: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Mullins: 'Credible and valuable audience growth for i is the goal'
Mullins: 'Credible and valuable audience growth for i is the goal'

The words are particularly apposite for the commercial man also responsible for the London Evening Standard and The Independent, and who in the past few years has been battling for growth in a depressed market.

Rewind a few years and The Independent was nigh on a basket case and a thorn in the side of owner Independent News & Media, while the London Evening Standard was reporting jaw-dropping losses.

The arrival of billionaire Russian owner Alexander Lebedev helped to resuscitate both papers by instilling not only financial security, but also the confidence and belief to innovate, and not simply do the same things over again.

Today we are here to talk about the i, The Independent’s baby brother digest title which has shaken up the newsstands as the first national newspaper to launch in 25 years.

The making of i

Let’s make one thing clear, the i is Mullins’ baby: he came up with the initial concept and played an instrumental role in persuading the Lebedevs, and then Independent editor Simon Kelner, it had legs.

Put simply, a passionate Mullins says from the outset the i had lofty ambitions to inject some much needed fizz into The Independent's offering, and capture an identified group of potential new readers currently not regularly reading existing qualities.

A year down the line and Mullins has the right to feel vindicated. The daily i has a steadily growing circulation in excess of 180,000 and is reportedly making money - an anomaly in a marketplace punctuated by double-digit loses at most rival newspapers. It should be remembered however that reporting costs will be attributed to The Independent.

"Many believed that i would fail and would kill off The Independent. Hopefully we are proving them wrong," he says.

"We have positive growth in revenues streams at i and the strategy is for the title to give positive contribution to Independent Newspapers Limited - parent company of the i and The Independent. We are on track to achieve that."

Exactly how much this positive contribution equates to is a subject Mullins refuses to be drawn on, but he is undoubtedly pleased by how little sales of The Independent appear to have been eroded by the new 20p entrant.

"It is marginal cannibalisation," he says. "It was about 2,000 before the TV campaign but this accelerated it to between 5,000 and 6,000 when the TV ad was on."

This cannibalisation could be offset by getting punters to trade up from the 20p i to the £1 priced Independent, though Mullins is steadfast that there is no clear strategy to try and push i readers onto The Independent.

"We are not actively trying to get people to trade-up. But Stefano (Hatfield, editor of i) regularly refers to The Independent in his leaders."

Goals for year two

He adds: "After a busy first year, the next one will be a period of consolidation, driven by a focus on bolstering advertising revenues and circulation growth, helped by further TV support, again featuring celebrities.

"In the next 12 months, there will be no cover price change to the i. There are plans to drive advertising growth and there is potential for the circulation to rise above 200,000. Over the next 12 months, though, it will be a slow build."

One possibly fruitful area for the i to pursue is to make it the newspaper of choice for schools.
The paper has just taken an order for hundreds of copies from one school- and Mullins believes this could be among the future areas to explore.

"Credible and valuable audience growth is the goal and that is what we are delivering", he says. "The i is not a commuter product per se. We have been doing subs with schools and the feedback from headmasters has been positive.

"They say they can’t support the view of a newspaper but because i is free from everything and is quality, they are happy to have students read it. The i doesn’t have the sensationalist stuff and doesn’t take strident views on quite sensitive issues."

Commercially, advertising sales for the i are overseen by Jon O’Donnell, who is also ad sales for the Evening Standard and The Independent.

The Independent and i currently offers advertisers a joint sell and Mullins says: "We now have a much stronger offering for advertisers and we look forward to continuing to grow the market as we recruit more people into the Independent's quality content offerings."

The London Evening Standard, can on occasion, be factored into the equation too, like a recent EDF Olympics campaign which ran across all three titles.

Mullins says: "We treat i and The Independent similar. We sell combined numbers to together to ad agencies. Many advertisers book across both but not all.

If you did a quick straw poll across media folk, you would be hard pressed to find anyone with a bad word to say about Mullins.

Alan Brydon, head of press at MPG, believes he represents quite an untypical media person, in that he isn’t overly extrovert, gregarious or showy, but, as has been evidenced, focuses on getting the job done.

He adds: "He also has a great trait of being loyal and doesn’t change things for the sake of it, or to prove he is the most important person around."

In short, Mullins is the energetic, non-drinking, fitness fanatic face of media, unfazed and unflappable by the daily drama of publishing a daily newspaper.

His strength of character is not to be underestimated, particularly as he has had to forge working relationships with three very different editors: The Independent’s Chris Blackhurst; the i’s Stefano Hatfield and the London Evening Standard’s Geordie Greig.

Mullins says: "You can’t help but be tied-up with the personalities behind the papers"

The editors are all relatively new but have experience of working at the top level on struggling newspapers - factors Mullins argues are a  positive thing.

"When you face the reality of closure and have been in the trenches it creates a stronger bond than when the editor has been around for ten years and has a power base," he says.

His relationship with the Lebedevs (Evgeny and Alexander) is said to be "amicable, arms-length and unimprovable".

He adds glowingly: "They are fantasic owners. I am a hired-hand so don’t socialise with them. They are genuinely passionate people."

Does he believe the Russians are in it for the long-haul and still be around in five years time? A steely Mullins gives a frank and definitive nod, and with that he is off, into back-to-back meetings, before a gruelling 15-mile cycle ride home.