According to one commentator writing in a broadsheet last week,
’she is undoubtedly producing an intelligent, different and modern
The ’she’ in question is, of course, Rosie Boycott, who last week
completed her first year as editor of The Express.
She’s had some decent report cards, but even her fans admit that the
figures invite a more sober analysis. The best you can say about her
first 12 months is that she’s done much to arrest a circulation decline.
But as this decline has been unremitting since the mid-60s, it will take
more than a few months’ worth of decent figures to convince the market
that a historical trend is about to be reversed.
For the record, the first three months of this year weren’t bad on a
month-by-month basis, but March’s sales figure of 1,085,550 represented
a 7.42 per cent year-on-year decline. Boycott argues that this is
actually a huge success, given that she expected her radical approach to
cost 300,000 in short-term lost sales. Nice try.
The Express can count on a huge amount of goodwill from the advertising
industry. Nothing to do with altruism, you understand - buyers are less
than happy with the fact that the Daily Mail is so dominant in the
mid-market that it can basically charge what it wants. Which, say some
buyers, makes it all the more frustrating when the ad industry fails to
deliver when it’s given the chance.
We’re talking here about the first work for the paper by St Luke’s since
it won the account from Leo Burnett around the turn of the year. The TV
campaign featured a dynamic Boycott look-alike running around the office
and being ... er, dynamic. Many found it a cringe-making
That’s only half the battle, though. Observers concede that, despite a
commitment to above-the-line spend, and although Boycott’s new editorial
broom is backed by a little more editorial funding, the paper remains
seriously under-resourced when compared with the Daily Mail.
Significantly, it’s also losing out in the promotions area - the Daily
Mail’s House of Fraser initiative earlier this year holed The Express’s
new marketing push below the waterline, for example.
While Boycott may be producing an intelligent, different and modern
tabloid, the big question remains - is it capturing the ad industry’s
The fact that Boycott has taken a crusty, bad-tempered organ for old
golf club bores in blazers and changed it into a more modern, New
Labour-supporting newspaper is creditable. That she has done it with
relatively little fallout is remarkable. But many in the business argue
that this should be seen as merely a first step.
Chris Shaw, the joint managing director of Universal McCann, thinks that
Boycott’s achievements have been overstated. He comments: ’I don’t think
that Rosie Boycott has made much difference. That’s surprising given the
effect she had at The Independent. I don’t know whether she has
difficulties there culturally. I’d hoped she would make a noticeable
difference in a very short space of time. It had a little bit of respite
on the circulation front a couple of months ago but it’s still not
exactly good news. At the moment there’s still effectively only one
title in the mid-market.’
Laura James, the press director of NewPHD, is keen to be positive. But
she too points out that buyers need concrete results. ’The Sunday
Express is clearly still lagging well behind, but with The Express
itself I think the product has improved hugely. I don’t think many would
The problem is that it takes a lot of time for that to feed through into
circulation and readership figures. And though we have seen signs that
the decline is being arrested, you can’t get away from the fact that it
is still showing a year-on-year deficit. That tends to have an effect on
the way it is viewed by the advertising industry, I’m afraid.’