LIVE ISSUE/NEWSPAPER ACCOUNTS: What makes newspapers such difficult clients? - Press clients don’t respect advertising as an industry, Francesca Newland writes

Newspapers are known as the clients from hell. It is an opinion borne out by the repeated advertising account reviews called this year - the Express and the Independent have done it twice, Sunday Business and the Daily Record are doing it, and the Guardian has just done it.

Newspapers are known as the clients from hell. It is an opinion

borne out by the repeated advertising account reviews called this year -

the Express and the Independent have done it twice, Sunday Business and

the Daily Record are doing it, and the Guardian has just done it.

Part of the explanation must be expense. Media owners use the same types

of suppliers as agencies, but the price-lists are wildly


Photographers have one rate for newspapers and another, let’s say ten

times as high, for agencies. Then there are matters like layout. It’s

easy for a newspaper to write, tweak and redesign a complex page in a

few hours, while an agency will take a lot longer to perform a similar


This is a major factor in the most frequently cited reason for agencies

and clients coming to blows, which is that newspaper people have little

respect for advertising.

Toby Constantine, the Times marketing director, says newspapers ’are

extremely disrespectful of the creative process’. In some cases, editors

believe in their own creative abilities and interfere with the agency’s


As one agency boss says: ’Newspapers feel agencies are a bit tardy. They

do turn tactical work around quickly, but the quality suffers.’

The flip side is that some agencies prefer not to sully their hands with

the dry, promotion-led advertising that dominates newspaper briefs.

Moray MacLennan, the joint chief executive at M&C Saatchi, which counts

the Mirror among its clients, says: ’Most of the money is spent on

promotions and much of the agency world sees that as grubby.’

Tom Knox, deputy managing director of Delaney Fletcher Bozell, which

creates the advertising for the Financial Times, agrees: ’You have to be

a bit humble in the face of a media product. The advertising must be

transparent and you have to avoid imprinting your own creative product

on the medium.’

But many agencies argue that for the long-term strength of the

newspaper, a branding campaign is necessary. As one agency source says:

’You have to ask them ’have you got the will to help build a brand

through above-the-line advertising?’ They think they can build the brand

through the product - that you get readers in with a special offer, they

read it and it will grow from there. Agencies want to build long-term


Underlying the client’s belief is the pressure to boost circulation.

A successful promotion, such as the Daily Mail’s Lucky Wallets, can

persuade 100,000 extra readers to buy the paper overnight.

But one agency source says: ’That causes a short-term boost among people

who shop around. It doesn’t generate any loyalty. Readers may move

between the Telegraph, the Independent, the Guardian and the Times.’

But there is a newspaper that appears to take branding seriously: the

Guardian believes in building emotional loyalty through its


Its marketing director, Stephen Palmer, says: ’We want to give people a

reason to buy the Guardian over and above a particular promotion. The

Guardian has always had commitment to invest in the brand.’

Despite this approach, the Guardian split acrimoniously with Leagas

Delaney in May citing ’disagreements over strategy’. The paper has since

produced a campaign through Partners BDDH.

Often agencies do manage to persuade newspaper clients to invest in

branding campaigns, but they then change their minds when confronted

with unimpressive circulation figures. As one newspaper source says: ’A

common mistake is to oscillate between purely tactical advertising and

branding campaigns. Branding campaigns don’t deliver immediate sales and

so newspapers panic and start making special offers in their ads.’

But agency criticism of newspapers’ failure to use branding falls down

with the experience of the Daily Mail and FCB. The team has been

together for more than 20 years, creating product-led advertising and,

in the past year, the newspaper has enjoyed meteoric circulation


Robert Ballin, deputy chairman of FCB, explains: ’An important factor

has been stability at the Daily Mail. In the whole time we have been

working there, there have only been two editors. There has been

stability at FCB as well. The number of people involved with the account

has been very limited.’

Another explanation for the paper’s growth is its constant airing of ads

which feature special offers or promote an exclusive, salacious story in

the next day’s edition. Loyalty is built by the frequency of the

product-led ads. Ellis Watson, marketing director of the Sun and News of

the World, says: ’You will not strengthen a brand by running only

tactical marketing, but if you do it right you won’t damage it and you

sell more copies.’

There is a correlation between the clarity of a newspaper’s positioning

and the success of its relationship with its advertising agency. The

Times, the Sun, the Mail, the Guardian, the Telegraph and the Financial

Times all have an upfront brand with a loyal readership and a history of

sticking with their agencies for several years.

Sunday Business, as the newest Sunday paper on the block, has yet to

establish these relationships - its advertising is being put out to

pitch as its new managing director, Andy Hart, attempts to take control

of the title’s marketing.

The Express and the Independent are also struggling with their

positioning - a factor which inevitably leads to tension with their

advertising agencies.


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