First it was bingo, then it was cut-price air tickets. Now the
latest weapon in Britain’s newspaper wars appears to be skirts, jackets
In a bid to explore just how loyal readers can be, the Telegraph
newspapers have launched their own fashion range. The T Collection is
aimed at 35- to 70-year-olds who might frequent Marks and Spencer
Clothes such as a pounds 110 wool and cashmere camel coat are intended
to be value for money, upmarket and reliable - in fact all the things
you might expect from the Telegraph. And they are available off the
page, nestled among relevant editorial, bringing home shopping to a
The range is the idea of Kevin Gavaghan, executive director of Telegraph
Enterprises, the umbrella company launched more than a year ago to
explore the commercial opportunities of the paper’s editorial. Having
already launched a direct book and golf service, he is convinced it
works. ’This increases the profile of the Telegraph and makes people
feel they have a tighter relationship with it,’ he says.
What Telegraph readers may not yet realise, but will if things really
take off, is that Gavaghan and his team of 18 plan to do more than wait
for responses to roll in. ’Advertising our offers in the paper is a way
of recruiting people. A good 70 per cent of the business is behind the
scenes through direct mailings. This isn’t intended to support
circulation,’ he says.
The T Collection, and three other services to be launched in the coming
weeks, are only the tip of a massive direct marketing iceberg, developed
in conjunction with the Telegraph’s development director, Tony Coad, and
its four databases, held by Alchemetrics and Hart Hanks/IFM.
The reasoning behind the direct-sell initiatives is two-fold. On one
level, they extend the kind of one-off readers’ offers that
traditionally the Telegraph has done very well, with each expected to
make a profit even after paying for its own ad space. Gavaghan calls
them a ’third-party revenue stream’ after circulation and
The other is to keep readers loyal. Gavaghan says the products on offer
are about value for money and reliability - and the approach seems to
work; offers sell despite their prices being comparable with those of
competitors. Feedback shows that even when they buy holidays or tickets
for sports events, purchasers believe their applications will be
prioritised by being a Telegraph reader.
’A Telegraph-endorsed offer will outsell an unendorsed one by 30 per
cent,’ says Gavaghan.
Perhaps this affinity is not surprising, given that products and
services are devised using market research to find out what readers
want. Only then are manufacturers, service providers and fulfilment
houses contracted to deliver the concept. Once commissioned, the paper
has little to do with the merchandise.
Products are developed by using information gathered from customised
questions on the Telegraph’s lifestyle questionnaires that supply the
group’s Lifestyle database of one million. As questions on products
become more specific, questionnaires targeting only 20,000 to 30,000
people are sent out, sometimes eliciting 70 per cent response. Focus
groups are then used to finetune the idea.
But using the companies’ sophisticated databases for offers is a two-way
street, and most direct selling provides as much information as it uses,
helping the group’s other below-the-line initiatives. The Telegraph’s
transactional database stores and segments information on 5.5 million
people who have responded to offers in the past, which is then used to
mail information on offers not necessarily advertised in the paper.
Respondents to recent golf offers, for example, are now mailed with a
quarterly newsletter which bypasses the paper entirely.
In theory, the idea of constructing a highly targeted direct mail
programme aimed at newspaper readers is a good one. The audience is as
well defined as any other and the scale of the Telegraph’s operation
must minimise the chance of poorly targeted, intrusive communications.
But because the programme is still in its early days, few readers will
have been exposed to its full scope, making it hard to assess what the
irritation factor could be.
Perhaps it is this that makes the paper’s competitors sound so relaxed
about what is going on next door. Few do more than produce the odd offer
themselves and that’s how they want it to stay.
Michael Halstead, the joint managing director of the sales promotion
agency, HH&S, which works for Associated Newspapers, says: ’You have to
be careful that you are building the brand rather than cashing in on it.
If you had responded to a gardening promotion, how would you feel being
hit by offers for other things?’
Tony Watson, the managing partner at Lowe Direct, which handles Times
Newspapers, adds that own-label products could alienate existing
advertisers as well as readers. He cites the fact that the Telegraph
scrapped plans to launch a discount brokerage service last year after
financial advertisers complained. He adds: ’It starts to look like rank
commercialism if you aren’t careful. They are following Richard
Branson’s lead, which is one thing if you are a manufacturer but it’s
different if you are a media owner.’
Whether the Telegraph manages to strike the right balance remains to be
seen, but one thing is certain. Its readers are not shy and if they feel
intruded upon, they will make their feelings known quicker than you can
say ’junk mail’.