MEDIA HEADLINER: Tenacious Carter faces tough decisions in senior Apollo job - Merging newspaper sales groups may stimulate the industry, Jeremy Lee says

The Mirror Group's sales department has frequently been vilified as being over-staffed, under-achieving and undynamic. In fact, one press director went as far as to call it "the worst sales point in town".

This has led some observers to suggest that its union with the more acclaimed Telegraph team, to create Apollo, may not necessarily lead to marital bliss.

The launch of the Apollo venture is just three months away and the Mirror has chosen Dominic Carter to partner the Telegraph's popular Chris White-Smith. This appointment has gone some way to assuage the industry's fears.

Carter emerged from a field of five internal candidates and although a Mirror employee, he is not considered a Mirror-man in the same way as his rivals who went for the job.

This lack of baggage is seen as one of Carter's key strengths and MindShare's managing partner, Paul Thomas, points out that he brings new ideas and outside knowledge to the venture.

1994: Today, group head
1996: The Sun, group head
1997: The Sunday Times, head of sponsorship
2000: Attic Futura, head of online sales
2000: Mirror Group Newspapers, head of client services
2002: Mirror Group Newspapers, display ad director
Carter is still a relatively new boy at the Mirror, having been at the company for just over a year. He spent the previous decade working mainly for News Group in a variety of commercial roles, which culminated in his appointment as head of sponsorship at The Sunday Times.

There is an interesting and rather unusual career move on his CV, when Carter jumped on the online bandwagon, joining Attic Futura as the sales manager for its teen site. But this was in 2000, by which time, of course, the bubble had well and truly burst, and the job only lasted a few short months.

Carter himself expresses no regret at this move and even his critics admit that this will have given him greater breadth of knowledge.

"It took me out of the comfort zone of press and gave me greater exposure to the machinations of running a business, Carter says.

During his time in the media industry Carter has managed to achieve the Holy Grail of being respected as a tough negotiator without being thought of as a prize shit.

"He's the sort of bloke you could have a blazing row with but still want to go out for a pint with, one press director says.

Carter is certainly acknowledged as being well-connected and focused.

He exudes charm, honed at his days at Durham School - the Eton of the North - but is also hailed as being "a tenacious bastard when he wants to be by one critic.

With his appointment and the subsequent merger of the two sales teams there will inevitably be some fall-out and difficult decisions to be made.

So is Carter up to the job of making redundancies?

Certainly Thomas seems to think so, and argues that one of Carter's key goals has to be creating a new culture for Apollo.

The Mirror is seen as having a somewhat browbeaten sales team staffed by old timers, while the Telegraph takes a much more aggressive approach, but draws criticism for being understaffed.

But more crucially, the Mirror is obsessed with yield while the Telegraph adopts the position of market leader by volume and marrying these two approaches will take up much of Carter's time.

Telegraph Group's ad director, Len Sanderson, thinks that Carter and White-Smith both have a clear view of Apollo's direction and make up a good team.

This is exactly what agencies want to hear. Steve Pople, the board director at Initiative Media, said: "How Apollo works will come down to how he (Carter) gets on with White-Smith."

"I want to get this job exactly right and I want to create something that is a success, Carter says.

Carter is careful not to give away too many details, although he does confess that he is looking at the way the Mirror sales team currently operates.

Pople thinks Carter is the right man for the job and points out that the formation of Apollo is a welcome move in the press market as long as its teething problems get ironed out.

"It shows evolution in the market and means that there is at last an alternative to News Group's grip on the market, one press buyer says.

A voice of dissent comes from Manning Gottlieb OMD's press controller, Mark Gallagher, who believes the whole thing is driven purely by cost-cutting and downsizing. He is concerned as to how Apollo will approach cross-selling.

"I can see media planners putting a newspaper title on a schedule when it doesn't deserve to be there just so they can get a better deal on something else, Gallagher says.

Carter won't yet be drawn on the leverage that Apollo will attempt to use, but the feeling is that if anyone can sort out such a hot potato, it will be Carter.

"It'll be the making of him, one admirer says.


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