Media Forum: Will News Group ad rejig work?

Can a sales restructure help to reinvent the retail ad market, Alasdair Reid asks.

The very least you expect from a new boss is that they'll move the furniture about a bit. At any rate, Mike Anderson, who jumped ship last September from his position as boss of the Evening Standard to become managing director of News Group, seems determined to do so. And last week, as he turned his attention to the structure of his ad sales operations, Anderson began looking at how he might rearrange a few desks.

Previously, News Group's ad sales efforts have been focused on the strengths of The Sun - Britain's biggest-selling daily newspaper and for decades a must-have on any retail advertiser's schedule. The News of the World may sell more copies, but its Sunday franchise has always been less of an attraction for advertisers, especially in the all-important retail sector.

So it has been wise in the past to leverage the strengths of the former in the latter's favour. Recently, however, that rationale has been eroded, not just by declines in The Sun's circulation but also by a relative slump in the retail sector generally.

Both titles, arguably need to be sold aggressively on their own merits.

From now on, each will have a dedicated sales team - in theory, they will be competing head to head.

Will this work? Alison Brolls, the global marketing and media manager at Nokia, reckons this could be a shrewd move from News Group. She says: "With the media landscape becoming ever more fragmented, it becomes increasingly important for major advertisers to hone in on those media channels that can provide the largest audiences."

And, of course, despite recent circulation problems, The Sun and the News of World offer a gross circulation of nearly seven million copies.

No other combination of two newspapers comes close to this figure.

However, Paul Thomas, a managing partner at MindShare, points out that a group sell has benefits as well as potential pitfalls. He says: "The benefit is when you get business you would not normally get. The main pitfall is the possibility that you don't get the yield on, in this case, the Sunday business you were going to get anyway. It also needs careful management because when you have internal competition, the danger is that Peter is robbed to pay Paul."

But Thomas reckons this is all pretty academic unless News Group can get more out of the retail sector, especially on a Sunday. Dedicated sales teams need credible targets. "The question is whether Sunday is or isn't a retail day. Even though many retail outlets are open for business on a Sunday, it's still regarded by many in the business almost as a day of rest. Shopping habits are changing and the retailers know more about this than anyone but perhaps they need to be convinced that on a Sunday when you pick up your newspaper and read an ad, you're going to action it."

Jane Wolfson, the head of press at Initiative, agrees that the News of the World isn't getting its case across consistently. She adds: "I can understand why they might be considering this. We would only hope it wouldn't cause a disconnect, for instance on special projects or promotions where we might be briefing out a creative solution.

There are times when we need someone to come back to us across the whole portfolio. We have had experience of teams being split out completely - there is the possibility it might become more time-consuming. The magazines are already sold separately so in some cases, now you might have to have three conversations."

Ian Tournes, the press director of Starcom Mediavest, reckons it might work, but agrees that neither title can expect to gain from turning up the heat on buyers. He explains: "They've never lacked aggression in the past - last year they pushed though rate increases even though circulations were declining. Retail clients, especially those who needed to be in at the back end of the week, tended to accept that.

"News Group sales teams have begun to realise they can no longer expect money to fly in through the door. That's why they have been beefing up their sales development teams. They are not just worried about their traditional competitive set but wider competition from TV and the internet. The Sun, meanwhile, must be worried about the strength of the Daily Mail on a Saturday.

They've never really been out and out sales people at News Group. In the past, they haven't had to be."

YES - Alison Brolls, global marketing and media manager, Nokia

"But the key to the success of selling each title more aggressively will rest on how advertisers are going to be incentivised. After all, when there is readership duplication of over 50 per cent across both titles, why effectively pay twice over for covering the bulk of the same audience?"

MAYBE - Paul Thomas, managing partner, MindShare

"Retail (advertising) is central to this - the majority of advertisers or prospective advertisers for these titles are in that sector - so for the News of the World, the issue is all about identifying Sunday as a key day for retail activity. Advertisers still need to be convinced about this."

MAYBE - Jane Wolfson, head of press, Initiative

"Retail has had a slow start to the year. There's less planning in advance and newspapers can't bank on money coming in. Friday and Saturday still seen as the main retail days. Some retail clients have been looking at Sunday but it's perhaps the case that the publishers should be conducting research into this."

NO - Ian Tournes, press director, Starcom Mediavest

"The retail sector is as weak as anyone can remember and there's less leeway for anyone to be aggressive. I think the feeling about Sunday is still that people don't necessarily read their papers first thing and that if they go shopping they don't tend to do it in the same way."

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