Media Headliner: Taylor is happy to see his future with GMG Radio

After almost 20 years in newspapers, Stuart Taylor has entered a whole new world at Smooth Radio.

Stuart Taylor suffered an undoubted career setback last year, when he was overlooked for the post of managing director of Guardian News and Media in favour of the IPC Media executive Tim Brooks.

As the commercial director at Guardian News and Media, and widely respected in the newspaper industry, he had been expected to take the plum role of replacing Carolyn McCall (herself elevated to group chief executive), but it was not to be. However, Taylor isn't one to either wallow in self-pity or walk out of a situation in a fit of pique.

And, back in June, he was rewarded with the dual roles of commercial director of GMG Radio, a new title at the company, as well as the managing director of the Guardian's Smooth Radio brand.

Understandably, missing out on the Guardian Newspapers managing director role is not a moment in his career that he cares to dwell on, describing it as "ancient history", and saying he prefers to focus on the future.

"It's been a fantastic ride so far. I wanted a new challenge. I've still got a lot to learn about radio, but it needs to move faster into the digital world," Taylor says of his first three months in his new role.

While there might be a temptation to see the radio job as a consolation prize, GMG, which owns Real Radio, Smooth Radio, Century FM and Rock Radio, is investing heavily in the medium. The Smooth network is the result of a rebranding of Jazz FM and the acquisition of Saga Radio, which was then rebranded. GMG also acquired two of GCap's Century Radio stations last year.

On top of that, it has been linked with a bid for the radio assets of its rival Emap, which owns stations such as Magic and Kiss, and it plans to invest as much as £1 million in developing new content, such as original comedy programming.

GMG also hit the headlines after a well-publicised bust-up with Richard Park's Global Radio UK (the owner of Heart and Galaxy), which resulted in GMG moving its national airtime sales contract for Real, Smooth and Rock from Global to GCap Media.

As for Taylor's new role, he is clearly a trusted pair of hands, and a known quantity at GMG, where he has worked since 1988. McCall describes him as a "consummate professional", saying of him: "He's a wonderful person to have around - calm, considerate and with a great sense of humour. He has great integrity and you would always want him on your side."

However, his radio experience is minimal. But this isn't necessarily going to hold him back, according to those in the industry. Tom George, the chief executive of Mediaedge:cia, says: "On the newspaper side, he was passionate about the GMG stable of products and was about as far away as possible from the classic 'old-fashioned' print salesman, recognising the need to diversify revenues with the print medium in long-term circulation decline.

"Hence, it's no coincidence that it's widely agreed that The Guardian was the first to recognise the importance of online and would probably be acknowledged as the leaders in this particular sector."

George believes Taylor will face similar challenges in the radio sector in terms of diversifying revenue: "Branded content or sponsorship and promotion revenue represents about 15 per cent of radio's business and one could argue that Stuart is exactly the person to drive this important revenue stream further forward on his stations."

GMG is set to back Smooth with a major marketing burst and has just put the creative account for the brand up for pitch, with the AAR handling the search and an appointed agency expected to be in place by the end of January. The hunt for a media agency began during the summer and is expected to conclude by the end of the year.

There is a two-fold challenge -building up the Smooth brand after a period of upheaval as Jazz and Saga have been rebranded, and winning listeners over from the popular BBC Radio 2.

Taylor isn't sure at this stage what form the marketing campaign for Smooth will take, but says "you will be aware of it". Activity will kick off in April, when the next chunk of marketing budget is available.

Critics argue that GMG will face an uphill battle because Smooth has such a distance to make up in establishing a clear positioning in the market. They say that the move of the sales contract to GCap in time for 2008 is hardly going to help in promoting consistency.

That said, Taylor is relishing the prospect of building the Smooth brand, admitting that the BBC is a "scary competitor". "They do, let's face it, put out some great radio," he says.

"But Smooth's appeal is not just the unbelievably wide range of tracks - listeners may hear Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven, followed by a Frank Sinatra track - but also in its regionality, with local news and local accents," he adds.

The national network will be complete when a North-East station begins broadcasting on 8 January, and the new year will also see the launch of a new breakfast show for London, as Smooth looks to improve its performance on the most competitive radio turf in the country.

So does Taylor regret the move? Doesn't he miss newspapers? "Of course I do. I was there a long time, I've still got countless friends who work there," he admits.

"But there is another world out there, and I'm absolutely loving it," he concludes.

THE LOWDOWN
Age: 44
Lives: Maida Vale, London
Family: Wife, Michaela; children Olivia, 13, and Cameron, 11. A dog and
two cats
Favourite radio station: Smooth
Favourite: DJs Mark Goodyear and everyone at Smooth, and Jonathan Ross
Favourite possession: Specialised bicycle, a Sequoia model, which I have
been known to stroke
Favourite music: Hard to choose, but I'm a big fan of The Beatles and
The Stone Roses