Media Headliner: Murdoch puts faith in Schwartz to galvanise NI

The arrival of Jeremy Schwartz shows that NI is putting marketing at the very heart of its business strategy.

News International's programme of glasnost and perestroika (to borrow from a lexicon of reform pioneered in a similarly dictatorial regime: Soviet Russia) is continuing apace.

It's all down to James Murdoch, of course. When, back in December 2007, he transferred over from BSkyB, where he had been the chief executive, to NI to take up the role of chairman and chief executive of News Corp, Europe and Asia, his first thought was to rid its Wapping headquarters (the ugly canopies of its gatehouse strangely reminiscent of the heavily fortified border checkpoint that once stood between Vienna and Bratislava during the Cold War) of its bunker mentality and its lingering aura of Dr Strangelove-style paranoia.

Last week, we witnessed The Sun's editor, Rebekah Wade, who'd been bound and gagged (in the metaphorical sense, naturally) by the Murdoch clan for six years, released to step blinking into unaccustomed limelight when she delivered the Cudlipp Lecture at the London College of Communications. It was her first proper public run-out (we don't count appearances before Parliamentary Committees) since becoming the editor six years ago.

But something of even greater import, arguably, took place last week - the appointment of Jeremy Schwartz as NI's chief marketing officer. This is a new role - and its creation, NI says, underlines the increased emphasis it intends giving to the whole marketing function.

As Murdoch puts it: "Our commitment to marketing is stronger than ever. Across our business, there is a huge opportunity to innovate and I am delighted that Jeremy will bring an exceptional record of success to News International."

Schwartz, 46, has had stints as the marketing director at L'Oreal and Sainsbury's in the UK and as the director of innovations and marketing for Coca-Cola across Europe. It's this innovation aspect that particularly excites NI. According to a company spokeswoman, in each of Schwartz's former roles, he "helped focus the organisations on to the consumer and created innovative promotional, new product development and distribution initiatives".

This is what he'll be expected to do in his new role. Equally importantly, he'll oversee the marketing efforts of the whole company, with the marketing directors of Times Newspapers and News Group Newspapers, Katie Vanneck and Allan MacCaskill respectively, reporting to him. MacCaskill's predecessor, Roland Agambar, saw this coming and, having been unimpressed with the dilution of responsibility, had already decamped to Associated Newspapers.

NI insiders point out that this is all of a piece with the outcome of a recent strategic review undertaken by Boston Consulting Group. This effectively knocked down the dividing walls that compartmentalised the two halves of the Wapping empire. Following the restructure, they no longer each have a managing director - and the sales function has been centralised into a new hub structure, with sales teams being able to sell across the whole family of NI properties.

There are cynics, of course, who scoff at the concept of a chief marketing officer. This, they say, is just job-title-ego-trippery. It's what you call a marketing director if you want to make him believe he's important enough to be included in the "c-suite" of people who run things in this world.

Which marketing people never will - not least at newspaper publishing companies, whose notions of marketing extend no further than lame promotions (bingo, DVD promotions, competitions giving away Ford Mondeos) designed to deliver a short-term, but ultimately flimsy, sales lift.

Not in this case, some observers say. This is a genuine attitudinal shift - and some would go so far as to claim that this is the first indication that publishers may be genuinely prepared to revisit the whole business model of newspapers.

They argue it's similar to what Murdoch did at Sky in bringing in marketing expertise from outside the medium. And it will dovetail with Murdoch's understanding of what newspapers can learn from BSkyB. The qualities in particular, with the home delivery schemes they offer, will move more towards a subscription model. Schwartz's appointment is the clearest signal possible that NI will be trying to lock in loyalty to its products.

And, in that respect, it's also interesting that Agambar has been given the same chief marketing officer title at Associated. At a stretch, we could interpret that as a signal that Associated is also acknowledging the central role of marketing in saving the newspaper industry.

As one observer puts it: "I think Associated may well have looked at what NI is up to and said: 'Yes, we get that. It's worth trying that.' But I can't see Associated following the same path with the same sort of enthusiasm. That said, they've made a great move in snapping up Roland, whatever they choose to call him. He's a bright bloke."

But isn't all of this academic, in any case? Marketing was indisputably important to NI during 2008 - notably a whole slew of initiatives on The Sun that have paid circulation dividends (it was the only national title to show circulation growth last year) and the campaign that underwrote the successful relaunch of The Sunday Times.

But that was then. True, when News Group put its advertising account up for review back in September 2008 (won eventually by WCRS), there was talk of a budget in excess of £50 million for 2009.

And, yes, there has been a considerable level of activity surrounding the recent revamp of the Saturday edition of The Times. However, the reality, surely, of the downturn is that, call them what you will, and in whatever industry, marketing directors will have much smaller budgets to play with.

On the other hand, as everyone knows, the winners in a recession are the ones who hold their nerve. As Jed Glanvill, the chief executive of NI's media agency, Mindshare, concludes: "NI is taking the lead in committing to its brands, not just in the media sector, but in the wider economy too. The message from all media owners to advertisers in a recession is that they have to keep investing in their brands. The fact that News International is prepared to do this itself sends a very clear signal that it is prepared to lead the way."