Can the new Mirror Group marketer build on recent successes?
You’ve got to hand it to Charles Kirchner. Not only does he smoke
Marlboro Lights - the brand he transformed from a tiny player into a
market leader while marketing director at Rothmans in the early 90s -
but he also professes to be a ‘classic Independent reader’.
Sorry Charles. He had asked me not to mention that (on the grounds that
‘it sounds too revolting’), but you have to understand its relevance.
After all, in his new role as marketing director of Mirror Group
Newspapers, one of his most pressing tasks is to rebuild the brand that
is - or was - the Independent. And if he can do for that paper what he
did for Marlboro Lights...
But can he? As one of those who identified ‘from launch’ with the
groundbreaking broadsheet, Kirchner is in the perfect position to say
what has gone wrong in the past few years. Problems of personalities and
funding aside, the bottom line, he says, is that it has lost the key
characteristics which made it stand out from the pack. ‘It was witty,
challenging and sparky,’ he explains. ‘It lost its way a bit. But under
Charlie Wilson’s editorship over the past six months, the product has
improved beyond recognition.’
So, with an improving product and increasing sales (the Independent was
up 1.23 per cent to 290,870 sales in the six months to February against
the same time last year), the time is right for the brand-builder to get
And make no mistake - brand-building is Kirchner’s forte. Hence, last
week’s launch of one of the single biggest promotions seen in the
broadsheet market for years, the pounds 500,000-plus Independent Classic
Film Collection scheme (Campaign, 23 March).
Kirchner, a well-heeled 41-year-old, was snapped up by the Mirror
Group’s chief executive, David Montgomery, in November last year to act
as the company’s brand development director. This limited, research-
based role always looked too small for such a weighty marketer, and so
it proved as Kirchner soon took on responsibility for all promotions and
advertising. Sharon Douglas, the previous promotions manager,
subsequently left the company.
Kirchner now works alongside the three managing directors of the Mirror,
Independent and People titles, Colin Myler, Amanda Platell and Bridget
Rowe respectively, but reports directly to Montgomery.
It’s been a rapid rise, especially for one with no previous experience
of newspaper marketing. But Kirchner is confident that his fmcg
background will bring important benefits to the Mirror Group. Although
it means ‘tension’ between marketing and editorial, Kirchner is
convinced that a clear, long-term vision is essential. ‘You can have a
consistent, underlying direction, which need not limit your ability to
react fast and effectively,’ he contends. ‘These are often seen as being
mutually exclusive, but I don’t think they are.’
John Sharkey, the joint chief executive at BST-BDDP, who worked closely
with Kirchner on the Marlboro account, testifies to the benefits of his
approach. ‘He was very demanding but also very good to work with,’
Sharkey says. ‘He’s formidably bright, very energetic and has a passion
for detail. Getting him is a smart move for the Mirror Group.’
Ross Capon, who knows Kirchner from his time at BST, and who later
helped launch the Royals brand at his own agency, CCST, is also a fan.
‘He’s a decision-maker who has a great deal of clarity, but listens to
all points of view and bases his decisions on all the available
Kirchner’s co-ordination of the current promotions war between the Daily
Mirror and the Sun has been adept. Last week, the Mirror countered the
Sun’s Coronation Street scratchcard with its own game fronted by Julie
Goodyear, who used to star in the soap. The initiative maintained sales
of the Mirror despite the Sun’s big rise.
But therein lies the crux of Kirchner’s problem. For the Mirror and the
Independent, merely maintaining current circulation figures is seen as a
fair success. Kirchner’s task is to increase them.
If Kirchner can help turn the Mirror Group’s titles around, he will have
done remarkably well. And he knows it. The interview over, we stroll
together to the lift and talk some more about the Classic Film
‘It’s a nice way to make your mark,’ I say. ‘Yes,’ he replies. ‘If it
works.’ And he returns to his office and his packet of Marlboro Lights.
The Kirchner file
1980 Shulton Exports, regional manager then product manager, Old Spice
1983 Rothmans Exports marketing manager for Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the
1987 Rothmans UK, marketing manager then marketing director
1992 Rothman’s UK, sales and distribution director
1994 Hi-Tec Sports, managing director
1995 Mirror Group, brand development director then marketing director