Media Forum: Is Mail revamp welcome?

Should advertisers welcome the Associated restructure?

First News International, now Associated Newspapers - big newspaper minds clearly think alike. Last month, NI announced that it had decided to bundle just about all of its products into one commercial structure; last week, Associated followed suit.

Guy Zitter, formerly the managing director of the Daily Mail, has been promoted to a role covering the daily and Sunday titles as the managing director of Mail Newspapers. Similarly, John Teal, Zitter's lieutenant as the Daily Mail ad director, has been made the group advertising director, where he will oversee a merged print and digital sales team across the two titles.

In many senses it's an obvious move. The departure (announced in August) of Stephen Miron, formerly the managing director of The Mail on Sunday, to commercial radio, left a gap that Zitter will fill effortlessly. And the new structure will also allow Associated to accommodate the sorts of measures that are inevitable in a recession - though Zitter insists that this is not just about cost savings, it's about the whole company pulling in the same direction to maximise revenues.

But when you bulk up any product, it inevitably becomes more of a commodity sale - and the group's strength in the past has been the fact that it has resisted all forms of commodity thinking. Zitter, for instance, has been a consistently vocal critic of the agency deal mentality that some of the big buying points have succumbed to.

By the same token, if Associated now starts trying anything akin to conditional selling, then buyers may be tempted to express something stronger than mild surprise. But, bottom line, should advertisers welcome the restructure?

It's too early to say, Alison Brolls, the head of marketing planning, global marketing services at Nokia, suggests. She says: "You can understand why media owners have taken the opportunity to re-evaluate their company structures and Associated is no different. While some could view this as a smart cost-cutting move, there is a real possibility that the in-house competition between the titles will disappear. That can't be good news for advertisers."

She reckons there could be upsides if Associated can find ways of using this new structure to deliver better value - but wonders whether that will materialise.

Much of this is echoed by Paul Thomas, a managing partner at Mindshare. He reckons this will be interesting from a trading point of view. "It's the way the world is going," he admits. "Look at us with Group M. Associated probably feels it needs to fight size with size. It has reacted accordingly. We'll have to see how it works."

And he adds: "It's good news potentially from the point of view that if we came up with a particular solution we're now going to get a better response across the piece from Associated. When sold separately, there was a feeling that there was something of a 'never the twain shall meet' sort of attitude there."

Jo Blake, the head of press at Arena BLM, agrees. And she's generally positive: "I think that with NI moving to a more joined-up approach, Associated probably felt it made sense to consolidate its titles and to use its size and portfolio to its advantage. Also, the two titles always traded against one another which for agencies has been great, but most people perhaps questioned the wisdom of this."

Quite, Nik Vyas, the group press director at ZenithOptimedia, says. But he concedes that there may be some benefits to advertisers. He explains: "We welcome the potential benefits the changes will bring to integrated solutions. What we want are truly integrated, cross-title, cross-platform responses."

In commercial terms, the new structure may help Associated - but from a purely trading viewpoint, there will be little in it for advertisers. Vyas concludes: "The Mail brands are extremely strong individually and provide a large, distinct audience but the combined outfit will place them on a much surer, more robust footing as we enter a turbulent period."

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

"This sets up an expectation that Associated intends to deliver greater advertiser value. I hope it won't use this to become more bullish by using the combined might of the two titles."

MAYBE - Paul Thomas, managing partner, Mindshare

"Trading-wise, it will be interesting. Previously, you could play the Mail off against The Mail on Sunday to a certain extent. That will change now. It will probably become more challenging."

YES - Jo Blake, head of press, Arena BLM

"In the past, when agencies have wanted a cross-media solution, it has been difficult to access both titles in a joined up way. That has been a frustration. So I think it was only a matter of time before something like this happened."

NO - Nik Vyas, group press director, ZenithOptimedia

"Most people are surprised it hasn't happened sooner. But in purely trading terms, the merged operation has little benefit to advertisers. It's no secret that the two sales teams competed aggressively against each other and that often worked to our advantage."