MEDIA: HEADLINER; Troubleshooter turns bully to rescue the Sunday Business

Phil Lawlor’s tough talking may turn the paper round. Gordon MacMillan reports

Phil Lawlor’s tough talking may turn the paper round. Gordon MacMillan


Phil Lawlor, the Sunday Business’s marketing director-cum-general

manager (Campaign, last week), is the man credited by some for keeping

the paper going this long. Whether he should have bothered is another


It is a paper that has been described by some columnists as a joke,

though maybe that is a little harsh. What isn’t is to ask whether a

paper which set out to take on the Sunday Times Business section, and

failed, still has a role to play. Can it seriously answer the ‘why am I

here?’ question.

The answer to that is yes, well, almost. The Sunday Business has a

function, just not the one that its founder, Tom Rubython, first dreamed


Quite simply, Lawlor says, Rubython got it wrong. ‘The rules that were

laid down in the early days were wrong. You can’t pull in the top 20

advertised products because we are not offering anything unique, only


The Sunday Business is going to be different now. It has owned up and

admitted that it is not a major player, not a Labour or a Conservative

party, but more a Liberal Democrat.

Lawlor expands the analogy: ‘Everyone says the party should not be

there, caught between two giant monoliths. But it is still there and

people keep voting for it and it still has a role. That is how I see

Sunday Business.’

What can’t be disputed, Lawlor admits, is that the Sunday Business is

not going to be the first choice of captains of industry. Instead it

intends to position itself as ‘a valuable tool for those a little

further down the scale. Smaller operations such as IT and mobile

communications companies.’

The trouble is that these people are already served by the trade press.

Not a problem, Lawlor says, who believes that ‘the trades do not give

the depth of coverage that a national newspaper approach can’. The key

point being that the Sunday Business is a national newspaper. Or is it?

Average sales currently stand at around 55,000.

The paper has just published issue nine. That in itself has surprised

many. More than a few pounds have been lost around town on the Sunday

Business closure sweepstakes.

For now there is cash - but not a lot - and Lawlor admits that money

alone does not mean the paper will make it. ‘These people who have

invested are people who like a challenge but they are not throwing their

money away,’ he explains.

But if anyone can save the Sunday Business it’s Lawlor, says Phil

Kohurt, now managing director of Century Communications and a client

from Lawlor’s Arc days when he worked at Pearl Assurance. ‘I was the

client from hell. Arc was having trouble with Pearl and put Phil on to

it and he turned it around,’ Kohurt recalls. ‘The agency kept the

business because he understands the whole marketing process. There is

not an ounce of bullshit in him.’

To keep the Sunday Business going, Lawlor will have to turn into a

national newspaper bully. He is doing away with the ‘soft magazine

culture’ that the paper was founded on. The Sunday Business needs, he

says, a few bullies of the national newspaper variety. ‘We are a

national newspaper and we need people in the company who live and

breathe national newspapers,’ he argues.

Lawlor is confident that there are hardened veterans of the nationals in

the marketplace who will be prepared to join his newcomer and points to

recent fall-outs at the Independent and the Financial Times. The phone,

he says, will soon be ringing.

Before anything serious happens, before another relaunch ad campaign,

the Sunday Business has to make it through what is shaping up to be a

long, hot summer of low sales and low ad revenue. That will be a test in

itself. But Lawlor will be making the running while Rubython is

consigned to edit on the sidelines.

It is going to take a lot to keep Sunday Business going and it’s perhaps

lucky that Lawlor is not a man for hobbies. Hobbies, he believes, seem a

little obsessive.

Lawlor’s idea of getting away from it all is to disappear for long

holidays to India or Africa, jack up the stereo and listen to the blues.

He spent Christmas in a 14th-century fort in northern India and he will

spend the summer in a bunker at 3 Cavendish Square, London, W1. It is,

so they say, the home of a national newspaper.

The Lawlor file

1978 Ted Bates, management trainee

1980 TBWA, account director

1984 Famine Relief, Sudan, aid worker

1987 Arc Advertising, account director

1988 Arc Direct, managing director

1992 Times Newspapers, account director

1994 The Independent, marketing consultant

1995 Northern and Shell, marketing director

1996 The Sunday Business, general manager