Media Headliner: Mullins enthusiastic about Standard challenge

The managing director of the relaunched title is well aware of the need to forge relationships with readers, Ian Darby writes.

The Evening Standard relaunched as the London Evening Standard to great fanfare on Monday. Leading the trumpeting was Andrew Mullins, the Standard's managing director, who was out on the streets with other senior members of the team helping vendors distribute 650,000 free copies of the revamped title.

The launch itself followed a week of teaser marketing activity, which had seen the Standard, under the new ownership of the Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev, say "sorry" for its past attitude towards London and Londoners.

Mullins is adamant that this was the correct strategy to pursue as the Standard looks to adopt a more confident and breezy positioning. The "sorry" creative was replaced this week by new work from McCann Erickson outlining a series of "we promise" commitments from the Standard (such as "political independence", "to listen" and "to celebrate London"). This, in turn, will be followed by a bright, two-tone colour campaign featuring sharp photography and straplines to emphasise that the Standard aspires to be a premium, entertaining evening read.

A former Unilever and Diageo marketer, who cut his teeth in newspapers as the marketing director of Times Newspapers before moving to the Standard in 2006, Mullins is convinced that the relaunch strategy was the correct one. He says: "If we'd just come out with the new paper, then people would just have turned around and said 'so what?'. If we promise to people to be better then they will appreciate it.

"Realistically, it's a hard challenge so we have to take risks and be brave. People might say 'what's all this about, I'm a happy reader?' but (the question is) do we have a strong enough relationship with people that they will run the gauntlet of crossing the road in the rain to one of our vendors when there are five or six frees being thrust into their hands and they don't have 50p ready? Our relationships were not strong enough so we have to build those relationships to go that extra mile for the brand."

Mullins compares the Standard's relationship with readers to one of a failing and loveless marriage that must be rescued. He is admirably frank about the prospects for the relaunch, admitting that holding its circulation of 263,312 (just 128,375 of which are paid-for copies at the full 50p rate) will be something of a triumph. He argues: "All newspapers are in decline. If we can stop this decline, then it's a major success; if we get growth back into the brand, then our relative share and size will grow. Gaining a firm position as the number-one quality newspaper in London would be a major success."

In its favour, the new look and positioning, which includes a greater focus on entertainment and showbusiness, could appeal to a broader audience, while investment in new digital channels (including a new website and a mobile offering, will provide readers with a more up-to- date and interactive offer. The Standard is also introducing a three-tier payment strategy, which, in addition to full-price copies, will see the paper made available to Oyster card holders for 25p and for 10p after 9pm.

Under the new editor, Geordie Greig, who recently arrived from the society magazine Tatler, the Standard promises to be more upbeat and politically neutral than under his Ken Livingstone-bashing predecessor, Veronica Wadley. And media buyers seem impressed with the relaunch and the accompanying promotional push (the Standard will spend £4.5 million marketing the paper). They are also impressed with the Standard's ad sales operation, which, under the former Mail on Sunday ad director Simon Davies, is said to be trading in a flexible way.

Dominic Williams, the press director at Carat, says: "Advertisers are looking for any newspaper to invest. Investment is coming in and the Standard could now be a big threat to The Times with London commuters. There's a question- mark hanging over the freesheets and all we've had in recent years from the Standard is that it's circulation is down by this or that, so it's good to see that being addressed."

Of course, the source of this investment is the Standard's new owner, Lebedev. The Russian bought a 75 per cent stake in the title for £1 from its previous owner Associated Newspapers in February. Under the terms of the deal (which sees Associated maintain a minority stake), the Standard remains in its offices on the second floor of Associated's Northcliffe House. Mullins argues that the new ownership (not withstanding reports of financial difficulties for Lebedev in Moscow) has injected a new spirit and dynamism into the Standard's editorial and commercial teams.

He likens the role of Lebedev and his son Evgeny (who is the Standard executive director) to that of private equity investors and says that the Standard is run day-to-day by a three-man team of himself, Greig and the deputy chairman and media entrepreneur, Justin Byam Shaw.

"We've got a long way to go, and we're well aware that when 900,000 free things are being given away around our vendors, then it's not going to be easy," Mullins admits. That said, he is rolling up his sleeves with admirable enthusiasm.