Last week's Pride of Britain Awards, a highlight in the awards calendar organised and "owned" by the Daily Mirror, brought the strengths of the Mirror, and perhaps its limitations too, firmly into the spotlight.
Here was a famous old media brand delivering feelgood content for the nation and rewarding some bloody marvellous, brave people while doing it. This all goes down very well with the Mirror's readership and with a broader audience on ITV, not to mention with politicos (the Prime Minister was in attendance) and celebrities looking to make capital out of an association with the everyday heroes gaining recognition.
You could argue that few other UK media brands would ever be capable of pulling off such an event as it appeals to the Mirror's heartland audience and the Mirror titles themselves attempt to build a genuine warmth and sense of community in their pages not displayed by spikier rivals such as The Sun. But while there's no sign of a decline in appetite for the values that underpin the Pride of Britain event, it seems clear that against a backdrop of declining circulation and a recent profits warning from its parent Trinity Mirror, the Mirror's titles themselves have a bigger task in maintaining their audience as tastes evolve.
In attendance at the awards was David Emin, the director of advertising at Trinity Mirror's nationals division, who was also celebrating just having been handed an enlarged post as part of a restructure at the group. Emin will play a key role, reporting to his new managing director, Mark Hollinshead, in securing the fortunes of Trinity's national titles.
Emin is a stocky figure, who his friend Jonathan Durden, the founder of PHD and a partner at Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, says resembles the cartoon character Morocco the Mole from the Secret Squirrel strip. Yet despite his diminutive stature, Emin more than makes his force felt at events such as Pride of Britain, representing himself and the Mirror with aplomb among assembled heroes and guests from the advertising community.
The social side of the business is always something he's been good at, but while he might be from the "works hard, plays hard" school, Emin is said to have honed this with a more statesmanlike approach in the past year or two. The late-night card schools with Durden and other friends are said to be less frequent and he's known to be very highly thought of internally, not least by the Trinity Mirror chief executive, Sly Bailey. During his early months at the Mirror he was close to accepting an offer to go into the Big Brother house, only to persuade Durden to do so instead (Durden says he has just about forgiven him for this). Now, such brushes with infamy seem firmly in the past.
Emin has also been building a reputation as a broad-based commercial operator at the Mirror. His enlarged role will see him take on responsibility for digital sales, advertising planning and business enterprise (revenue streams from areas such as telephony) alongside his core concern for ad sales across the two Mirror titles and The People. This change was instigated by Hollinshead, who was chosen ahead of Emin's former boss and mentor Richard Webb when Bailey took the decision to merge management responsibility for the Scottish national titles (overseen by Hollinshead) with the English nationals (Webb's responsibility) and national digital operations. Webb, who hired Emin in March 2006, having previously managed him at News International, subsequently left the company.
There were the obvious cost-cutting implications but Hollinshead has also talked about the benefits this structure could deliver, not least in being more proactive with advertisers and being able to discuss its range of titles and online opportunities in the same conversation. And the industry believes that Emin's role will be vital in all this, especially given that some argue he has undergone something of a transformation during his time at the Mirror, which followed his more than a dozen years selling on The Sun. Dominic Williams, the head of press at Carat, says: "He's worked hard at repositioning himself during his time at Mirror Group. He was very much the hard- nosed negotiator at The Sun but at the Mirror, he's adopted the mentality that you have to be as entrepreneurial as you can be and punch above your weight because agencies and clients will eat the Mirror alive otherwise."
Emin has relished the challenge of selling the Mirror against such a strong rival in The Sun (the Daily Mirror's August circulation, down 8 per cent to 1,455,270, was less than half that of its Wapping rival). And there are signs that Emin and a reshaped sales team beneath him (he has brought in many of his own people during his time at the Mirror) are winning around the market. He has been helped in this by a long overdue investment in digital across mirror.co.uk and other sites as well as a revamp of the Mirror's print product, but he wins praise for developing creative and digital solutions. "I think the Mirror's ability to do a cross-platform pitch is now phenomenal - they can start with mobile then talk about the whole online picture before coming in at the end with a discussion about ads in the papers," Williams says.
It's inevitable that speculation will continue to surround the future of Trinity's national titles, but despite the ad downturn, it remains a profitable business and supporters of Emin say he's more than up to the challenges ahead: "There's more to come from David. Ad director is a big role but he gives you the sense that he's bigger even than that. He could be capable of running a company like Trinity Mirror one day," Durden concludes.
While he might not yet be Trinity's hero, Emin is certainly in a good position to help its nationals punch above their weight in the advertising community.