MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON; THE SUNDAY EXPRESS: Will a call to younger readers benefit the Sunday Express?

Will the Sunday Express’s latest repositioning work? Alasdair Reid investigates

Will the Sunday Express’s latest repositioning work? Alasdair Reid


Being the editor of a national newspaper must be a bit like being the

England football manager - everyone thinks they can do the job better

than you can and the best result you can ever hope for is a nil-nil


Sue Douglas, though, has probably had more advice than most since taking

up the editorship of the Sunday Express in January. It has been a long

time since the title had anything remotely like a victory - and it has

been suffering awful punishment courtesy of the Mail on Sunday. The

circulation of the Sunday Express is 1.3 million, the circulation of the

Mail on Sunday is considerably more than that at 2.1 million.

Last week, Douglas unveiled the latest stage of plans to turn the title

around - giving Walsh Trott Chick Smith the task of coming up with the

creative work on a new pounds 6 million campaign. There are few people

better qualified to deliver the goods than Dave Trott: at GGT he had an

extensive involvement on both the Daily Mirror and the Sunday Mirror


This time he’ll have his work cut out. His brief is to extend the

title’s appeal from a predominantly older readership to embrace younger

readers, without turning it into a youth-oriented publication.

Heard this somewhere before? Of course you have. Every mid-market and

broadsheet paper has come up with this sort of mission statement at one

time or another. Usually they fail spectacularly. Is the Sunday Express

going to be any different?

No, is the short answer from Peter Bowman, the media research director

of WCRS. According to his recent analysis of TGI data, the Sunday

Express is read by ‘Victor Meldrews’ - old and grumpy male

traditionalists. They take great pleasure from gardening, they buy

British whenever they can, they think that there is far too much concern

about environmental issues and they believe that a woman’s place is in

the kitchen.

‘It’s madness and almost certain disaster for the Sunday Express to go

ahead with a radical repositioning,’ he warns. ‘It’s true that there

isn’t a middle of the road newspaper for a younger audience. But that

begs the classic question - there may be a gap in the market, but is

there a market in the gap?

‘And that’s not the biggest problem. Even if there was a market, it

would be asking an awful lot for the Sunday Express to position itself

in the gap. Its readers are attitudinally the oldest in the newspaper

market and it would be attempting, in positioning terms, to leapfrog the

Mail on Sunday. It would be a huge leap to make - a very dangerous leap

in the dark.’

He points out that, despite the best efforts of various publishers, the

demographic profiles of newspapers are static. The Daily Telegraph

talked a good game for a while, adopting a slicker look and hiring token

iconoclasts like Tony Parsons to write columns. But the average age of

your average Telegraph reader remains 50.

Bowman argues that the Sunday Express should focus on its strength -

become, to use a broadcast analogy, a gold title majoring on gardening

and personal finance.

Bill Jones, the deputy chairman of MediaCom, admits he doesn’t have any

better ideas. ‘They’ve been talking about making the Sunday Express a

younger paper on and off for a decade,’ he points out. ‘If you’ve been a

regular Sunday Express reader you must be in a permanent state of

confusion. From what I understand of its new plans, the Sunday Express

is admitting that all it has done in the past has failed.

‘It’s not that bad a newspaper, it’s just that the competition is so

much stronger. I think many people would like to see the Sunday Express

come up with a really radical approach rather than just more tinkering.’


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