It's not hard to find newspaper publishers willing to concede that they are in the midst of revolutionary times. Since Rupert Murdoch made his now notorious speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in April 2005 (when he argued that the web, having failed to change the world during the dotcom era, now had to be taken far more seriously), just about anyone who's anyone in the industry has come round to the view that their business model has changed - or is changing - utterly.
Or so we thought. There are signs that some senior figures are reviewing the situation. During the autumn of 2006, for instance, it was possible to find senior publishers rediscovering a more intransigent proposition - namely, that newspapers have faced all sorts of threats down the years, and they've come through more or less unscathed. So, perhaps it's no surprise to find, almost two years on from Murdoch's apocalyptic pronouncements, publishers pursuing a spectrum of strategies, from Trinity Mirror's "easy does it" approach to the Telegraph Group's charge towards a root-and-branch reinvention as a cross-platform, integrated media brand.
Last week, it was the turn of Guardian News and Media to do a bit of fine-tuning. GNM has always talked a good game in this area - and though it has managed to resist any temptation to rearrange the office furniture with the sort of gay abandon that we've witnessed recently at the Telegraph Group, it has quietly got on with the job of integrating the editorial efforts of its print and digital brands.
Strangely, though, its commercial structures have lagged behind. Last week's initiative pulls it into line with News International and, of course, the Telegraph Group.
1. The Guardian Unlimited digital display sales team will now be merged with the display print teams to create one new department, called GNM Commercial, headed by its commercial director, Stuart Taylor. Chris Pelekanou, the group's deputy ad director, has been promoted to the new position of sales director, GNM, with overall responsibility for the new merged digital and display print sales operation. The client sales manager, Mark Finney, is also promoted to advertisement manager, clients; while Simon Kilby, the agency sales manager, becomes the advertisement manager, trading.
2. In October, News Group Newspapers split with David Roddick, News Group Digital's sales director. In December, it restructured its advertising sales teams into three multi-platform groups, each reporting to the NGN media director, Mark Chippendale. Each group features a team of 16 staff with responsibilities covering a set group of media agencies.
3. Where the Telegraph Group has been concerned, editorial restructuring issues and its move to new offices in central London have captured most of the headlines. Rightly so - the group plans to evolve further, faster than its rivals when it comes to generating a spectrum of digital content. But it is moving towards a fully integrated ad sell, too, under its executive director, Dave King, and Shaun Gregory, who joined as the development director in October.
4. Associated Newspapers is considerably more guarded about this issue than its major rivals - though it is prepared to reveal that individual sales teams "routinely pitch multi-platform advertising solutions". The sales teams of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday, the Evening Standard and Metro each have digital specialists who work with the newspaper account handlers to deliver cross-media proposals. This echoes the structural model being pursued by the titles' editorial teams - newspaper and digital newsrooms on each of the national titles were integrated in early 2006.
5. Trinity Mirror has been very active in the digital domain, acquiring standalone web operations in the classified ad sector, as well as developing sites for its existing regional and national titles. But agencies say there needs to be more joined-up thinking where the on- and offline sides of the national newspaper brands are concerned. Senior executives would seem to agree. Trinity Mirror's business review, published last month, talks of "streamlin(ing) our editorial processes to allow more extensive and efficient multimedia publishing" and speculates that by "integrating our print and online operations more closely, we will be able to remove many of the existing barriers to cross-selling opportunities".
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- These are scary times for the commercial managers of national newspaper brands. Hardly a day goes by without them hearing, in one form or another, the message that they must adapt or die.
- A cynical strand of opinion within media agencies continues to argue that many of the changes we've seen so far are, to some degree, cosmetic. The sceptics argue that publishers are currently hedging their bets - and the reality is that they still believe, in their heart of hearts, that traditional print revenues will continue to be the mainstay for a long time to come.
- As one agency source puts it: "All of the newspaper groups, to one degree or another, still struggle to understand the difference between an integrated sale and a conditional sale."
- But no-one should underestimate the commitment publishers, right across the board, are making here.
- It's perhaps surprising that it's the newspaper publishers that are doing the most to make media agencies take a long, hard look at their own structures. Not so long ago, the theory was that, as mainstream agencies became more involved in online buying (pushing digital specialists aside in the process), the discipline would probably be integrated alongside other electronic media such as TV and radio. Instead, the press department has become the focus for action.
- Press planners and buyers are enthusiastic about the challenge they are being offered, but, as on the sales side, the real difficulty is delivering truly integrated thinking rather than regarding online as something of a bolt-on.