Media Forum: Should clients applaud NI?

Will its new ad sales structure bring benefits to clients, Alasdair Reid asks.

News International won't be the only media company "letting people go" this year - but it's surely rather sobering to witness newspapers' market leader reducing its sales headcount from 450 to 350 - a drastic measure given that this was already a relatively lean operation.

Worrying also, from a media agency point of view, is the shape of the new structure. Gone is the separation that kept the red-tops and qualities in separate commercial compartments. Previously, Paul Hayes was the managing director of Times Media, while Mike Anderson had the same role at News Group Newspapers. Hayes has now become NI's commercial managing director, while Anderson has moved over to head all things digital across the group.

Dominic Carter, formerly the Times Media trading director, is now the NI trading director, reporting to Haynes, and under Carter, there will be a merged commercial team, organised around agency- focused hubs. Each hub, which comprise up to ten people, will contain a Times Media trader and News Group Newspapers trader, an inserts and magazine trader, a digital trader, a thelondonpaper trader and a creative specialist.

For some media agencies, this looks suspiciously like a structure set-up to attempt something akin to conditional selling. Phil Georgiadis, the Walker Media chief executive, says he has not been reassured by what he has heard so far.

He explains: "You can understand why, in the current climate, News International might want to get rid of 100 people. But what it also seems to be doing is saying that it now regards what it has to sell as a commodity and it is deciding that it wants to maximise a return on that commodity. That presents me with major issues. There are advertisers, for instance, who find it appropriate to advertise in The Times and The Sunday Times but not in The Sun. I don't particularly want to trade with people looking to do a better deal with you if you squeeze The Sun on to the schedule."

But Claire Myerscough, the business intelligence director at News International, says she can offer reassurances on these sorts of issues. There will, she argues, be no loss of passion for individual brands.

She adds: "There will be specialists responsible for individual titles, but the teams will also be able to offer wider access - and it's a structure that also understands better the needs of planners and strategists. But we fully understand there is no point shoe-horning clients into places where they don't want to be. We want to make sure we give clients the return on investment they need. We believe this is a more sophisticated way of doing that."

Andrew Power, the press director at MediaVest, believes that, too. He asserts: "The restructure will benefit larger advertisers that target a wide demographic. By having central teams, NI's ambition is to be able to offer cross-platform solutions - making the process of reaching the scale of the audience that NI offers quicker and more integrated and smaller advertisers will still have contacts on each title."

Nick Vyas, the group press director at ZenithOptimedia, isn't convinced. He concludes: "We would always welcome anything that simplifies the process of trading and reduces our transactional costs, thereby enabling us to focus our resources on crafting closer and more expansive relationships with our key partners. If this restructure facilitates that then great, but clearly the streamlining of headcount is of benefit only to NI.

"How the changes affect the advertiser category expertise they hold, as well as the proactive selling of supplements and sections, will be telling as to whether the cuts have been made too deep. On the surface, there appears to be a significant amount of crossover between roles, so a clear explanation of the demarcation of responsibilities and a strategic vision for the changes would be appreciated. In order to assess accurately the implications of the restructure, we need the fog of uncertainty currently surrounding Wapping to clear."

NO - Phil Georgiadis, chief executive, Walker Media

"If NI commoditises its inventory, it is not fighting for individual papers or newspapers as a whole. It is in danger of losing sight of the importance of maintaining newspapers' share of overall media budgets."

YES - Claire Myerscough, business intelligence director, News International

"The restructure has been undertaken to reflect the needs of customers better and not to squeeze advertisers into places where they don't feel that they belong."

YES - Andrew Power, press director, MediaVest

"The restructure is about growing revenue and creating tailor-made solutions. Now the market leader in newspapers is evolving to a media group structure, it's definitely a change for the better."

MAYBE - Nick Vyas, group press director, Zenith-Optimedia

"The key thing for us at the moment is the level of uncertainty that currently prevails, even at NI. There are plenty of question marks and several blanks that need filling in, both in terms of how exactly the structure will work and how it will benefit our clients."

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