Media Headliner: Will the marketplace take Freeman to its heart?

Adam Freeman, GNM's new commercial director, knows he has a hard act to follow in Stuart Taylor, Alasdair Reid writes.

You can't help but feel that the senior editorial people at The Guardian could learn a thing or two from their colleagues on the commercial side. Nothing major, you understand. Just an attitude or an outlook on the world. Of course, that will never happen.

In recent years, Guardian Newspapers or, as it has evolved into, Guardian News & Media, has suffered from something of a split personality, or, more accurately, two facets of the same personality

The commercial people at GNM seem to take the same non-conformist set of cultural markers espoused by its editorial team, and produce a model of utter clarity, confidence and self-belief.

The commercial team succeeds in giving the impression that GNM is the most modern of media owners - slick and professional without ever needing to become desperate, underhand or confrontational. Uncompromising and ambitious in their own way, but, when it comes down to it, eminently reasonable, too. They have a relentless, almost scary optimism.

In recent times, there has been a succession of bright sparks who have embodied this. Carolyn McCall and Stuart Taylor, for instance. While Tim Brooks, who arrived as the managing director of GNM last autumn, clearly fits comfortably into that tradition.

And, of course, Adam Freeman, it has to be said, is right off this production line. They've either been very lucky, or there's something in the water over there at Farringdon.

His promotion to the role of commercial director, with effect from September, is the latest link in a chain of cause and effect that began when McCall was promoted to the position of chief executive of Guardian Media Group back in May 2006. She and her board then decided not to elevate the commercial director, Taylor, to the role she had left as the managing director of GNM. Brooks, the managing director of IPC ignite!, was hired instead, paving the way for the next wave of change.

Taylor still has a sympathetic fan club in media agencies, who feel he was unjustly passed over. Just recently, he moved sideways to become the managing director of GMG's Smooth Radio - a turn of events that still puzzles many in the media marketplace.

So is Freeman, who has replaced Taylor in the commercial director role at GNM, aware that Taylor is a big act to follow? Well, yes, of course he is, he responds. "Stuart has put this department in an incredibly strong position," he says. He emphasises what a large part Taylor has played - and will continue to play until September - in managing the transition period.

And yet, whatever he says to the contrary, you soon get the impression that the Freeman era is already well underway. Agencies say that the change is already noticeable.

Crudely put, The Guardian's status as a trust has historically meant it can operate outside of the sorts of short-term revenue-gathering pressures that, say, a plc-owned media owner tends to suffer. It has thus been able to focus on yield rather than volume - and the knock-on effect from this is that it has been capable of concentrating on quality of service and the depth of the relationships it has with its media agency partners.

Freeman is going to want to take an objective look at these issues. These are principally matters of nuance - but agencies suspect that GNM's commercial unit is about to become a leaner, more emotionally detached operation.

It's also significant that Freeman has more in the way of digital credentials than his predecessor. His only foray outside of The Guardian mothership, for instance, was a spell (May 2000 to January 2002) as the sales and marketing director at emagazineshop.com.

And indeed, Freeman points out that digital media has evolved new ways of looking at the ad market - perhaps the print side of the business can learn from this."The likes of Google have helped change some of the rules. It's entirely valid to question the cost benefits of some of the things we do," he explains. "We're continuing to look at our structures, services and the performance indicators we use. We will want to be much clearer on the cost of sales. We'll be looking at incentive schemes and our share of revenue and (the extent to which we should) keep pushing when we know that the revenue is there."

Under Taylor, Freeman has been at the forefront in developing an integrated sell across the newspapers and Guardian Unlimited - and that is the biggest challenge in the immediate future. The job will become even more complex later in the year, when Guardian Unlimited tries to catch up with Times Newspapers and Telegraph Media by introducing more video content.

That will involve Guardian sales people talking to broadcast departments as well as the digital and print people for the first time. Which could be interesting.

But, bottom line, will the marketplace take Freeman to its heart as it did with Taylor? Well, interestingly, it very much depends on who you talk to - and, perhaps appropriately, his potential fan base is clearly to be found at the younger and more digitally literate end of the market.

As Robert Horler, the managing director of Diffiniti, puts it: "The telling thing is that everyone I've known who has worked for him speaks very highly of him. He is approachable, friendly, calm and cerebral. He's certainly not into power or ego trips, and he gives people room to develop. I have to say, I have a lot of time for him."

THE LOWDOWN
Age: 38
Lives: Kingston upon Thames
Family: Married, with three kids, one dog, one hamster and two goldfish
Most treasured possession: Friends and family
Interests outside work: Playing and coaching rugby, eBay, generally
trying to keep up with the kids
Last book you read: My Friend Leonard by James Frey
Motto: "Don't take yourself too seriously because no-one else does"