MEDIA HEADLINER: What will it take to market UK newspapers to advertisers?

The Newspaper Marketing Agency's chief is ready to get started, Ian Darby says.

In the film The Untouchables, Sean Connery clutches a medal of St Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, as he and Kevin Costner take on the might of De Niro's Al Capone. Maureen Duffy, the new chief executive of the Newspaper Marketing Agency, could be forgiven for needing a similar prop as she attempts to unite the bickering camps of the national newspapers into a marketable single voice.

Connery eventually succumbed to a hail of Mafia bullets. There might just be a little more hope for Duffy.

Known as a tough negotiator, Duffy, 43, certainly seems ready to scrap on behalf of the newspapers. She says: "I love taking on challenges - this is what excites me. And setting up a company from scratch with the basic goal of increasing national newspaper share of advertising is certainly challenging and exciting."

Her last job was certainly no picnic. As the daytime controller of ITV, Duffy failed to improve the network's fortunes against a resurgent BBC.

Duffy carried the can for the loss of flagship programming such as Home & Away (to Channel 5) and personalities such as Richard and Judy (to Channel 4) as ITV's daytime share continued to lag behind the BBC's. In the case of Richard and Judy, press reports suggested there had been personal bust-ups between Duffy and the nation's favourite couple.

So is she really the right person to unite the UK newspaper industry?

Richard Webb, the chairman of the NMA and the general manager at News Group Newspapers, says: "She's extremely capable, versatile and very experienced in all aspects of media trading. She is familiar with the client side, has worked closely with large customers of media companies and has also worked within the BBC and ITV. She also has experience of the high-level politics of groups of competing media organisations."

Duffy's CV is certainly rounded. Her experience seems to fit the NMA's requirement of finding someone sufficiently immersed in the media world while bringing an impartial view to the table. She started her media career on the agency side at J. Walter Thompson, working as a group media director before rising to become the strategic communications director. In 1998, after 15 years at JWT, she took the role of marketing controller of BBC Television. She then continued her media owner career with the move to ITV.

Duffy's first task when she starts in the role in January is to bring together a pool of permanent staff and "freelance talent" to put the case of the newspapers. The membership of the NMA, all the major national newspapers with the exception of the Financial Times, has committed to putting three year's investment behind the NMA.

So are they convinced they have found the right person to take them forward?

Chris White-Smith, the display ad director at Telegraph Group, says: "I'm delighted, it's terrific news. The best thing is that the appointment wasn't delayed, it happened precisely on time."

Duffy admits she took care in considering whether to take the job, particularly after witnessing first hand the inability of the television companies to come together to form a similar joint-marketing initiative. "I thought long and hard after I saw the debacle of the TV companies. But this is not something that was just thought up a couple of months ago," she says.

"The newspapers, unlike the TV companies, have really thought about this and decided there is a clear, tangible benefit in working together."

The most immediate effort advertisers and agencies want from the NMA is investment in research to provide evidence that national press advertising works. The national press' share of advertising fell from 13.3 per cent in 2000 to 12.5 per cent last year (according to the Advertising Association) and an ISBA source recently told Campaign that at least one top-ten press advertiser is considering diverting spend from the medium because of its lack of accountability.

Belatedly, the newspapers have taken notice of such frustrations and at least are now on track. Duffy will have her work cut out and will need to hone her diplomatic skills, but she has enough self-belief to win the fight.

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