Two weeks ago, Bill Gates rang from Seattle asking for a regular
copy of the paper; Richard Branson thinks it is marvellous; and the
banker Sir Evelyn de Rothschild says it is his favourite. But Paul
Woolfenden, the managing director of Sunday Business, is concerned about
its recent decline in circulation.
This is unsurprising in view of its sudden drop in sales, from a peak of
72,000 in February 2000 to its existing 56,000. Woolfenden, 47, who
joined the paper last March, admits frankly: "Sales dropped like a stone
when we put the price up 100 per cent."
He adds: "Anyone who doubles the price of anything is asking for
trouble. In my opinion it was the cause of our accelerated decline. I'm
not saying it wasn't worth it, but doubling it was a problem."
The paper has halved the cost of a copy to 50p north of Birmingham and
watched "sales increase dramatically in that area".
Woolfenden left school at 16 with little to show for his time in the
classroom. He began his career as an editorial clerk at The Telegraph's
office in Manchester. He wanted to be a journalist but in those days the
National Union of Journalists had a stranglehold on recruitment and they
blocked him because of a lack of qualifications.
As a result of the NUJ's ban, he went into the commercial side of
newspapers - most recently working as the commercial director at the
Daily Express before joining the exodus triggered by its purchase by
Woolfenden, who was born in Oldham, has tackled the problem of falling
circulation at Sunday Business in some unusual ways. He says: "I've
taken certain measures. I've redistributed the marketing budget and the
way we distribute the paper as well as our method of retail. The
circulation was bad when I joined but we're nudging it up now. We are
taking initiatives to stabilise our sale."
The first thing Woolfenden did was to disband the circulation team
because it needed to be more "sophisticated". He has also taken the
unique step of contracting out advertising sales to The Telegraph. He
says: "The philosophy is because we are a small paper, we should be
about content and marketing without having to worry about back-office
Woolfenden sees his battle against giants such as the Financial Times in
"Virgin versus British Airways" terms. He says Sunday Business is like
Virgin, with a cheek and irreverence, and the FT is like BA: "Analysis
is what we are priding ourselves on, largely because our chief executive
is Andrew Neil who is very hot on it."
He continues: "We are introducing a new section called Executive
Briefing, aimed at small- to medium-sized businesses. We will use
personalities in this as well as in the Sunday Roast (the paper's diary
section). We have discovered that 31 per cent of our readers work for
companies with 25 employees or less. So we've taken this into account as
we develop this section."
The rationale for extending this SME readership is clear. Woolfenden
says that his readership includes more chief executives than any other
paper. He adds: "But it's a very limited market. We want to go below
board level to senior managers who are tomorrow's readers at present.
This is a big market."
Woolfenden has also had to face the issue of hiring quality staff.
Following the defection of the former editor, Jeff Randall, to the BBC,
the paper appointed Nils Pratley, former editor of thestreet.
co.uk, as editor and recruited Robert Miller, a former city editor at
The Times and a columnist at the Daily Express, as associate editor.
A month ago, Sunday Business launched its Sport First section in the
Meridian TV area, complementing the Business and Pleasure section
launched earlier this year. Woolfenden says: "Business and sport do go
together. They are both male-dominated things. So we struck a deal with
Sport First whereby it would produce a special 32-page edition for
Woolfenden is now considering extending the launch of Sport First to
other regions; the title has just launched in London. His plan is to
raise sales to 100,000 next year. But with the markets facing meltdown,
this may prove ambitious.