CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/ROLAND AGAMBAR - NI's tough nut may find the Express hard to crack. Roland Agambar's new job may well prove a poisoned chalice, Jeremy Lee writes

Roland Agambar's move from News International to Express Newspapers last week was a lot more sudden than he intended. When The Sun's head of marketing announced that he was quitting to become Richard Desmond's group marketing director, his boss, the marketing director, Nick Canning, promptly told him to clear his desk and clear off.

"Canning was rather peeved when Agambar resigned because he felt a little betrayed,

one source close to the News International exile says. "After all, he had supported Agambar and helped develop his career."

There are plenty who predict Agambar may regret burning such bridges. Given the high turnover of staff under Desmond's notoriously confrontational management style, his latest move up the career ladder could well prove a poisoned chalice.

"Even though it looks like a good career move in terms of job title, it's a big job for him and one that not many would relish taking on,

an agency source who has worked with Agambar says. Combine this with the Daily Express' plummeting circulation figures and plans to launch a Sunday edition of the Daily Star, and the new boy at Ludgate House would seem to have his work cut out.

Before joining News International, Agambar was the broadcast manager at Carat working on the News International media buying account. This experience has left him particularly media savvy - but his knowledge of the ropes has also given him a reputation as an awkward client. And while some describe him as likeable and decisive, his overwhelming self-confidence can come across as arrogance.

The consensus is that Agambar is tough and demanding - and that these will prove essential character traits for the job he's taking on. "Although the Star is performing well, it's going to be no mean feat trying to turn around the fortunes of the Express,

one press buyer comments.

Agambar claims that he has always wanted the challenge of looking after a portfolio of titles and that this was the crucial factor in luring him to Express Newspapers.

"There are different demands on the group's different brands,

he says diplomatically.

There certainly are. While the flagship Express has had its difficulties, the Star is enjoying a surging renaissance. The recent decision to launch a Sunday edition at a time when most Sunday papers are suffering has been applauded as a smart move.

"The Star has a dedicated readership and has turned into a good editorial product but the question is do they have enough money to put behind it,

MindShare's managing partner, Paul Thomas, says.

There have been doubts about Express Newspapers' commitment to advertising - in contrast to the consistent campaigns Agambar has been used to at The Sun. Creative is currently handled in-house and cynics have suggested that the agencies on Desmond's media roster - MediaCom and OMD UK - were only selected as a bargaining tool because they just so happen to be among the biggest press buying points.

Thomas thinks that Agambar should concentrate his resources on developing a coherent and consistent advertising strategy for the Express - and Agambar himself acknowledges that there are lessons that can be learned from the rival Daily Mail.

But Associated Newspapers puts £20 million behind its advertising and no-one knows just how deep Desmond's pockets are. Stan Myerson, the joint managing director, has claimed that he will invest £30 million on advertising for the papers. But the company's promise of £20 million in its first year produced just £6.9 million from October 2000 to September 2001, according to AC Nielsen/MMS, so this should perhaps be viewed with scepticism.

It has been suggested that Agambar's appointment might lead to a review of the papers' creative agency requirements - and Agambar himself refuses to rule such a move out. "Roland likes having agencies around him and the trappings of office that this brings,

one agency source says. "He's an extremely high maintenance client, always demanding preferential treatment."

Agambar insists that he will not be tearing up the Express playbook to begin with. "My initial priority is to reinforce what has been going on under Margaret McDonagh,

he says. McDonagh, a former marketing director for the Labour Party, was on a short-term contract at Express Newspapers and as well as guiding the papers' advertising is said to have been instrumental in persuading Desmond to convert to Labour.

In the end, it's how Agambar measures up to dealing with Desmond and Myerson that will decide how effectively he performs in the new role.

Those who know Agambar point out that he survived Ellis Watson, the former Sun marketing director who had his own reputation for not suffering fools gladly.

"Watson rather rated Roland, which is quite an achievement for the man and testament to his ability,

one agency source comments.

It's an ability that will certainly be needed in his new role.


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