CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/ALAN RUSBRIDGER - BMP picks up the branding baton for The Guardian. Alan Rusbridger plans to refresh his paper's image, Francesca Newland writes

Media owners, and newspapers in particular, have long had a reputation of being particularly stinky clients with a penchant for regular, often unprovoked, reviews.

Media owners, and newspapers in particular, have long had a reputation of being particularly stinky clients with a penchant for regular, often unprovoked, reviews.

The common theory runs that creative brains at the papers believe they can do the job better than the agency they appoint and, consequently, proceed to make its life hell. So in the first few days of its relationship with The Guardian, pre-Christmas appointee BMP DDB would do well to bend an ear to editor Alan Rusbridger's perceptions of his paper's brand.

Rusbridger believes that The Guardian's brand has been evolving in much the same direction over the past ten years, but is also sure that work remains to be done.

'There's always a time-lag in perception,' he argues. 'I think there's been a steady journey away from the classic tweed jacket, sandal-wearing image. But I'm always amazed at how alive that stereotype has been. We have moved toward a younger, more metropolitan, free-thinking paper, not defined by politics or a public sector ethos. But every time you think you've got there, research shows otherwise.'

The choice of BMP to change those findings was made by Rusbridger alongside Guardian Newspapers' managing director, Carolyn McCall, and marketing director, Marc Sands. McCall believes the paper's image has already taken significant steps forward, and credits the former marketing director David Brook with a crucial role in the process.

'BMP's skinhead ad, although everyone talked about it, didn't change The Guardian's image,' she says. 'It took until 1991 or 1992 for people to take us seriously. The launch of The Independent (in 1986) put a rocket up us.' Now McCall can point to supplements such as The Guide, launched in 1993, as the tools with which The Guardian is attracting younger, metropolitan readers.

However, as the paper has zeroed in on this much-envied demographic, it has been forced to shed some elements of its original core constituency. Ten years ago The Guardian had a distinct position that won it a devoted following - it was the paper of the Labour Party. That is no longer the case, leaving the paper vulnerable to charges that it lacks purpose and direction.

'The story of the past ten years in politics generally is the breakdown of the divides between left and right,' Rusbridger responds. 'I'm not a captive of left-wing politics - although we're to the left of New Labour on many issues. But issues like genetically modified foods, globalisation and the environment are not left or right.

'The image I want our agency to understand is that we are a mainstream paper - you can't survive as a niche paper. We are plonk in the middle of where public opinion is, but with a radical edge.'

Understandably, he believes that the editorial content of the paper defines its brand and that the advertising should build on that positioning: 'The best advertising grows out of editorial and amplifies what the journalists do. It's at its weakest when it's in tension with editorial.'

Rusbridger is polite about incumbent Partners BDDH's 'Free thinkers welcome' work for The Guardian. 'As a concept it was good,' he maintains. 'It showed that the paper is not just for left-wing people.' However, he adds that the advertising had run its course: 'The Guardian is a serious paper, not a light read. Having started out with a strong idea, it had gone as far as it could. It was in danger of becoming a bit worthy.'

McCall is open about the reasons for last year's review. 'BDDH tried to differentiate The Guardian with colour and vibrancy but something got lost,' she says. 'The ads were a bit too clever to the point of being obtuse. I believe in simple advertising.'

BMP did not present hard on strategy, saying The Guardian already knew its market and positioning. Instead it filled two rooms with creative work, in a pitch very much led by the creative director, Larry Barker.

Rusbridger was impressed: 'BMP had the very clever idea of doing posters based on readers' letters. The reader is not presented as a bloke with a whispy beard, but someone sharp, someone we want telling the story for Guardian readers.'

He also appreciated that BMP didn't do separate presentations for The Guardian and Guardian Unlimited: 'It's all part of the same endeavour.' Both Rusbridger and McCall talk of the energy and freshness of BMP's ideas.

So it's all a bit of a love-fest - for now. But as Rusbriger says: 'We're probably very difficult clients in the sense that we are made up of a lot of creative people. We're good with words and images. I suppose there's a natural arrogance. Newspapers are very demanding and always moving on to the next thing. You have to look for people who can keep up with you.'



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