Media Headliner: Tenacious Taylor plots strategic format switch

Guardian Newspapers' new commercial director tells Ian Darby why a long-term approach to downsizing will pay off.

Working on the commercial team at Guardian Newspapers Limited seems a bit like turning out for the amateur knockaround cricket team the Bunbury's - have a bit of fun without really having to worry about the revenue generated.

It's tempting to take this view because of GNL's ownership structure.

It is run by the Scott Trust, which uses other parts of its business to fund the loss-making newspaper division. This allows it, in the words of the late former Scott Trust chairman and Guardian columnist Hugo Young, to be "profit-seeking, without in every year having to be profit-making".

A nice position to be in, you might think, and one that should lead to a lovely, cosy, philanthropic environment. Yet this is clearly a distorted picture, because GNL, and its sales division, have produced some of the finest newspaper operators around. The previous sales directors Caroline Marland and Carolyn McCall both rose to become managing directors of GNL, while its latest sales director, Stuart Taylor, has just been promoted to the role of commercial director.

Taylor, who has been at GNL since its acquisition of The Observer in 1993 and was made ad director in 2000 when McCall stepped into the MD role, has been elevated to his new position as The Guardian and The Observer enter an exciting phase of their evolution. Despite speculation that The Observer might be sold, GNL says it is developing its own long-term plans for the newspaper.

Both titles will get a format change, taking on the European or "Berliner" slimmed-down format by 2006 (1.5 centimetres wider and 10 centimetres longer than the tabloid format adopted by The Times and The Independent).

Taylor says: "The new job is all about having the time and space to look strategically across the possibilities of format change for both The Guardian and The Observer."

GNL is not rushing into the format changes, because new presses will have to be built and because it is wary of the experiences of The Independent and The Times. Both faced opposition from media agencies over trading policies on their new formats. "We will have a more consultative approach; people who have dealt with me know that that's my style," Taylor argues.

"We've got time to plan it, and I get the impression the others didn't. We're consultative and transparent."

Despite GNL's financial position - it lost £6.2 million in the year to 31 March (The Guardian is profitable, The Observer is not) - it has built a reputation as one of the more interesting media brands, with something of a buzz surrounding its commercial activity. But is Taylor worried that this has been lost following the The Independent's innovation? "We've not played our cards yet. Our circulation has bounced back after the summer and we're unfazed. We can play the long game because of our unique ownership structure."

And despite The Guardian's continued sales decline (its paid-for October sale was down 6 per cent to 352,444), industry-watchers believe Taylor is the right man to lead the commercial side of this change. Chris Willis, the head of trading for magazines at The Mail on Sunday, worked at GNL until last year. He says: "Stuart's very cerebral, but without being unapproachable.

You could see him eventually being a chairman - he's a very good spokesman for the company and there's nothing he isn't good at."

To date, Taylor's achievements include launching Guardian Recruitment Solutions and building its creative solutions for advertisers (formalised in the launch of the non-traditional advertising offering Guardian Plus).

Paul Thomas, the managing partner at MindShare, says: "He's your archetypal good ad director. He is statesmanlike, professional, canvasses opinions and is passionate about the brand. He's a dyed-in-the-wool Guardian reader."

Taylor's statesmanlike qualities have been built through his work in the newspaper industry - he was chairman of the Newspaper Publishers Association, and he is on the boards of the Newspaper Marketing Agency and The Media Circle.

Steve Goodman, the group press director at MediaCom, says: "The Guardian is quirky and innovative. It takes the lead in several areas. Stuart embodies that."

McCall, Taylor's boss, says: "He's an extremely nice man, easy to work with, but underneath he is determined and tenacious. The outer surface is affable but he has to be tough to get things through."

Taylor will spend less time on the day-to-day trading, with his deputies, Chris Pelekanou and Adam Freeman, shouldering much of the load. McCall says: "Stuart needs to step into a more strategic sphere and work with other directors to make sure the format change happens. Relationships with advertisers and agencies are central to its success."

But what about that ownership structure; how much pressure is there to turn the losses into profit? "While the division makes a loss there is huge pressure, but ten million people are viewing us online and online revenue is increasing by 50 per cent a year," McCall says.

Taylor's professionalism is more Botham than Bunbury's. But we'll soon see whether advertisers, and readers, will be bowled over by the new format.


Age: 41

Lives: Maida Vale, London

Family: Wife Michaela, daughter Olivia, 10, son Cameron, 8

Favourite ad: Smirnoff "diamond"

Describe yourself in three words: Optimistic, interested, fair

Most treasured possession: Specialised racing bike

Interests outside work: Golf, cycling, reading, food, skiing