Editorial: NMA discord is no surprise to sector

The fact that some of the UK's major newspaper groups are already tempering their support of the Newspaper Marketing Agency will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the politics and sniping that have always characterised this particular corner of the media industry.

Less than a year after the NMA became fully operational, there are signs of discord. Express Newspapers and Independent News & Media have baulked over extra funding proposed by the NMA to fuel additional marketing activity.

This is a clear sign that the NMA will continually have to justify its role and that the individual newspaper groups are not unquestionably wedded to the marketing initiative. The Financial Times, meanwhile, remains outside the NMA group.

While no-one would dispute the need for a combined marketing effort to promote the benefits of the national press as an advertising medium, many questioned the papers' ability to agree. The quality of most newspaper advertising is dismal; a credible effort towards improving creative standards among newspaper advertisers is a definite must. And for a media sector that is struggling with long-term decline, any effort to raise the profile and improve effectiveness of newspapers is long overdue.

But the baronial roots of the newspaper publishing business - though no longer an overt characteristic of most - still linger in the aggressively competitive cultures that characterise some of the groups. What's more, few media sectors have been as buoyant recently as the national press, with new formats, sections and innovations injecting a fresh vitality and rivalry. And, while other media have seen their colourful characters and entrepreneurial thirst dimmed by mergers, internationalisation and a dogged City focus, newspapers still retain pockets of impresarial colour and verve. None of which is particularly conducive to tempered, considered collaboration in the service of the medium as a whole.

Of course, all media competing for recession-squeezed ad budgets would find it hard to bury hatchets for the common good, and would also struggle to justify any increase in their own marketing spend. But the early signs are that the NMA is struggling to control the rival groups. The task is enormous. The question already is whether the NMA will survive long enough to make a real difference.

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