Media Forum: Does Indy package add up?

Has the newspaper's recent relaunch been a success, Alasdair Reid asks.

One journalist apparently said it was like something out of Dodge City. Another hack reckoned it was a bit like a visit from the Mafia. But no-one, as far as we know, has yet drawn any analogies to the style or content of CBBC's ChuckleVision, where Paul and Barry occasionally play cowboys or gangsters.

Which is a shame - because the momentous events we're referring to here surely had more than a little comic potential. We're talking about the showdown that ensued when James Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive of News Corporation Europe and Asia, and Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International (already in the building following a meeting at Associated Newspapers), moseyed on to The Independent's editorial floor to confront The Independent's editor-in-chief, Simon Kelner.

The Wapping Two were apparently upset at elements of a marketing push backing the title's relaunch under the new owner, Alexander Lebedev - an ad campaign through Beattie McGuinness Bungay that includes posters and wraparounds on The Indy itself, which reasserted the paper's objective left-of-centre credentials by stating: "Rupert Murdoch won't decide this election. You will."

Editorial coverage (across most media channels) of the showdown added up to the sort of communication cut-through that could never have been achieved by posters and wraparounds (plus some free distribution of the paper's new "Viewspaper" pull-out comment section) on their own. But unfortunately (perhaps), the kerfuffle has distracted the industry from any considered discussion of the pros and cons of the redesign itself.

So does the overall relaunch package work? Alison Brolls, the head of marketing planning, global marketing services, at Nokia, argues that the paper's new format gives Kelner and his editorial team an ideal platform to showcase their capabilities - and she believes the team has an impressive pedigree.

But she questions the focus of its marketing efforts: "One area they do need to consider is whether the free distribution sampling route they've been taking might dilute the purity of the paper's existing audience. While the overall campaign has to be applauded for its courage and pro-activity, you have to wonder what such methods will do to its readership profile."

Meanwhile, Marc Sands, until recently the marketing director of Guardian News & Media and soon to become the director of audiences and media at Tate Galleries, reckons that, where the revamp is concerned, there's been a lot of hot air about nothing. He says: "A minor redesign of the smallest intelligent newspaper in the UK is not of the greatest significance. Format changes, price-cutting and subscription initiatives can have some effect. Everything else is just moving deckchairs on the Titanic. The cruel fact is that The Independent has about 85,000 full-price sales a day - and what's that figure going to be in a couple of years time? A General Election is a defining point for newspapers because they do lead the debate for certain parts of the audience. This election would have been like any other election - just drifting on its way. Then the TV debates galvanised everything, put the efforts of newspapers into perspective and reminded everyone of the power of TV."

Toby Roberts, the head of strategy at OMD UK, is rather more upbeat, however. He comments: "At a time when the press sector is struggling financially, as audiences migrate elsewhere and advertising revenue is depressed, any publication that will invest in its product - high quality journalism - is a very good thing indeed. I wish The Indy luck."

On the other hand, he confesses that he worries about its detached, "above the fray" branding. That might have limited long-term appeal, he reckons. He adds: "One way around this would be to pick some causes to support and go down the route of genuine campaigning journalism, rather like the Standard did recently with its series on poverty in London. This sort of thing helps to galvanise readers, while showing the publication does believe in something and is prepared to take a genuine stand. But no more quixotic campaigns to have cannabis legalised, please."

Yet Greg Turzynski, a partner at Experience Communications (who worked on The Indy account), says he remains a fan. He concludes: "The paper has never been fearful of taking an unpopular stand, as evidenced by previous initiatives. It's a small title that has had a big impact on the industry. The revamp reflects exactly what The Independent has always wanted to be - a Viewspaper, not a newspaper."

MAYBE - Alison Brolls, head of marketing planning, global marketing services, Nokia

"By not tapping into a partisan position, it has the potential to ride uncertainty across much of the electorate. The possibility of a hung parliament adds further credence to its neutral position."

NO - Marc Sands, former marketing director, The Guardian

"For a handful of people in the media village this seems important but it takes a lot to make the wider public take notice - you really do have to hit them over the head with a sledgehammer."

MAYBE - Toby Roberts, head of strategy, OMD UK

"I worry about its positioning. It has been dressed up as a lack of bias. In reality, that means no opinion. Or rather, lots of competing opinions. I think brands have to believe in something, and that has to be evidenced in the product."

YES - Greg Turzynski, partner, Experience Communications

"The election shows us that people don't like unseemly spats between rivals and that small parties can suddenly become larger in an instant of publicity. Perhaps we should have a television debate between Simon Kelner and James Murdoch."

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