Ain’t life a bitch. You think everything’s fine and dandy and then it
isn’t. Step forward Andrew Cameron, former managing director of Express
Newspapers, kicked in the balls just at the very moment that his dream
deal became a reality (Campaign, last week).
There are those, of course, who say that Lord Hollick is the real
architect of this plan. After all, if his TSMS TV sales house can sell
Cracker all over the country, why can’t one sales force sell page eight
of the Telegraph, the Express and the Star? But some of the credit - if
it works - must surely go to Cameron, who first touted the idea some
three years ago to his arch-rivals at Associated. And, of course, there
are some powerful attractions in it - sufficient for Lords Rothermere
and Stevens to put aside their traditional enmities long enough to at
least talk about it seriously.
And why not? According to some calculations, putting together printing,
distribution and ad sales would have saved the noble lords at least
pounds 30 million a year, and one must assume that savings of a similar
magnitude will occur with this deal. Very seductive.
But cutting costs is only one part of the equation and the real test
must surely come from the bringing together of the ad sales teams. Here
the jury must be out.
Tempting as it is to draw parallels between the press and TV, are they
really there? Nobody would deny that critical mass is as important in
press as in TV, but the point is that it has to be the right mass.
Now for the competitive element. While the different TV companies
compete, it is in a limited manner and they certainly have no ultimate
wish, as the newspapers do, to put a rival station out of business. You
might then argue that, in competitive terms, the Express and Telegraph
are to each other as Meridian and Granada - that is, not very
competitive. But I’m not so sure. The most likely place for the Daily
Telegraph to attract new sales is in the upper-middle market. Given the
Star’s positioning the same must apply to the Express. Both papers have
older age profiles, so again they must fight on the same ground for new
readers. Last, the Daily Mail is unassailable in its female heartland,
so the Express must go for men (for example, with sports supplements),
but that male readership is the core of the Daily Telegraph.
So if the papers are jostling for the same readers, what about the ad
sales teams? Are they not going to spend more time fighting each other -
we all know about sibling rivalry - than the competition outside? This
is a weakness that any agency buyer will be quick to exploit and use to
drive a wedge between the two sides.
Of course, if a large chunk of the savings are reinvested in the papers,
the people and the marketing budget, then the sales team will be selling
a rising sales curve. But my suspicion is that the temptation to pocket
the savings will be too strong, and the new group’s only argument will