Can Dave King turn his hand to newspapers?

The Telegraph Group's shrewd new sales director says he can handle his first job in publishing, writes Ian Darby.

From bricklaying to US business school, Dave King's CV boasts everything apart from the obvious: the man who has just joined the Telegraph Group as an executive director has never worked at a newspaper before.

So when the Telegraph Group chief executive, Murdoch MacLennan, ousted his sales chief, Chris White-Smith, in December and installed King in his place, more than a few eyebrows were raised. National press is a conservative world and many key players would claim that it sits some-where ahead of nuclear physics and brain surgery in the pantheon of awkward sciences.

In short, many think King won't hack it. An ad director at a rival national newspaper group predicts: "He'll be in the job for about a year before Murdoch MacLennan eats him alive. The Telegraph needs an experienced commercial director; King doesn't know how to run a newspaper. What they've hired is a sales guy who knows nothing about publishing."

King is joining the Telegraph Group from Emap Advertising, where he was the managing director and previously its broadcast sales director. MacLennan is convinced that he has got the right man, based on King's experience as a tough negotiator at Carat (where he was broadcast director before joining Emap) and on his reputation for delivering the numbers at Emap.

Sources suggest that MacLennan was concerned that The Daily Telegraph - which, with a circulation of 905,889, is the best-selling quality daily - was not acting like a market leader in its commercial dealings; King's first task is to address this issue. Some agencies, off the record, indicate that the Telegraph could raise revenues by 10 to 15 per cent with a more compelling argument. King will also be involved in the ongoing discussions over whether to take the Telegraph compact. So far, its directors have indicated, it hasn't been able to make the numbers add up.

King refutes the suggestions that his lack of newspaper experience will hamper him in his task. He says that MacLennan, the former Associated Newspapers managing director , and John Allwood, a former Mirror Group chief executive hired by MacLennan last October, have all the necessary knowledge.

King says that he is the last of MacLennan's hirings at executive director level (though the Telegraph has since hired News International's Katie Vanneck as its marketing director to replace Mark Dixon) and that MacLennan, Allwood and himself will form the senior commercial team.

"I'm very committed to the cultural development of an organisation and there's a challenge for me there," King says. "What I bring to the party is the commercial side. John and Murdoch are steeped in national press and there's John's financial experience; it's a neat triumvirate. In the early days, I guess I'll focus on ad revenue, but with a view to looking at all revenues."

King is obsessed with the culture of the workplace, claiming delivering success through creating a culture as his proudest achievement at Emap.

But amid the away days, flexi-time and management jargon (honed during an Emap-funded Stanford business course in 2003), has he really impressed at Emap?

King is seen as a pleasant character, and former colleagues say that his stronger suit is his people skills and ability to build a team. Still, critics suggest there isn't much substance behind the geezer-ish bonhomie and worry he will struggle to apply a vision to the Telegraph's commercial operations.

However, the shrewdness King has shown in plotting his own career path would suggest otherwise. After leaving school, King progressed from the building site ("it was like media - you work hard and party hard") to selling fire extinguishers. His first media job, at Ulster TV, came after he responded to a small ad in the Telegraph. Twelve years at Yershon Media followed before he joined Carat in 1995.

King has settled in Clapham with his wife and two children. This and work commitments have limited his opportunities for more bloke-ish pursuits.

Though he still turns out for The Old Berkeley Cricket Club in Buckinghamshire (founded by his grandfather), he says that he no longer has time to "follow the gee-gees" seriously. Along with half of southern England, he supports Manchester United, and hung a picture of George Best in his office at Emap.

He says that the Telegraph offer, made by the new management after its acquisition by the Barclay brothers for £665 million, came after a phone call out of the blue, and that he was sad to leave Emap.

His aims seem twofold - to set up a trading policy and to build a strong culture. He says: "I'm looking to drive efficiency in the business, in the way we trade with agencies and at the Telegraph; it's going to be of benefit to both parties. But this will be delivered with fantastic customer service."

Agencies can expect a tougher time from Telegraph sales under King, but he claims that his 16 years of agency experience mean that he is realistic about the margin pressures agencies face.

"I see the future - it's about getting through the day-to-day trading efficiently and then spending more time on servicing and coming up with creative media solutions. It's simple when you look at it but it's hard to deliver," he concludes.


Age: 45

Lives: Clapham South

Family: Wife Amanda, daughter Poppy, 4, son Alfie, 22 months

Favourite newspaper: I guess I have to say The Daily Telegraph!

Describe yourself in three words: Clear-thinking, driven, fun

Most treasured possession: Sorry, cheesy, but the children

Interests outside work: Cricket, footy, horse-racing and a pint in The


Favourite TV programme: The X Factor

Biggest professional achievement: Enjoying what I do