Reach, the publisher of the Daily Mirror and Daily Express, has completed the merger of its two national advertising sales teams to create Reach Solutions.
Andy Atkinson, Reach's chief revenue officer, said the enlarged sales house "increases our scale in the market but it’s about more than that".
He cited the papers’ "identity, influence and integrity" as three additional benefits for advertisers.
Reach Solutions’ increased scale means it reaches 46 million Britons a month, according to Atkinson, who pointed out: "That’s more than Facebook."
He admitted that Google and Facebook continue to suck up most of the growth.
"News brands reach more people than ever in the UK, but we’re seeing revenue come out of news brands at a significant lick," he warned. "We need to make sure our proposition resonates, so our advertising is more commensurate with our audience reach."
Atkinson sees some signs of optimism because Reach Solutions’ national ad revenue has grown during some months in 2018 as digital growth has offset print decline, although regional ad sales have continued to slide.
Digital is on course to generate 50% of the group’s national advertising revenues for the first time in 2019.
"That’s huge," Atkinson said. "Our job is to make sure we take a greater share of that digital market."
Stop Funding Hate ends Express boycott
He said the change of ownership at the Daily Express has already had an impact, because the paper has softened its editorial tone on immigration and run "a lot more varied front pages".
As a result, campaigning group Stop Funding Hate, which urges advertisers and consumers to boycott titles that promote "hate", has removed the Daily Express from its blacklist.
Atkinson welcomed Stop Funding Hate’s decision as "an outcome" of the change in editorial approach – "rather than something we were striving for".
Reach, the owner of titles including the Daily Record and Manchester Evening News, bought Northern & Shell’s newspaper and magazine portfolio, including the Daily Express, Daily Star and OK!, from Richard Desmond in February 2018.
The merger of the ad sales teams completed this week, when Northern & Shell staff moved from their old office in Blackfriars to Reach’s Canary Wharf headquarters.
The combined sales team has about 255 staff. Reach carried out a jobs consultation involving employees of both Trinity Mirror and Northern & Shell, and about 50 roles have been cut.
Atkinson said merging the teams had been "relatively simple" as they had similar structures.
Reach Solutions will mark its launch with a series of events, called Reach Fest, for advertisers and agencies during the week of 12 November.
The centerpiece will be a talk with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who will be interviewed on stage by Reach journalists in central London.
‘Identity, influence and integrity’
Atkinson said the Northern & Shell acquisition has broadened Reach Solutions’ demographic reach because each title has a distinctive identity.
The Labour-supporting Daily Mirror has continued to campaign on issues such as protecting the NHS.
Meanwhile, the Conservative-supporting Daily Express has increased its backing for Theresa May – "it’s really important to have relationship with Number 10," Atkinson said – and the Daily Star offers what he calls a "30-minute escape".
Reach also owns more than 100 regional titles such as the Evening Gazette in Redcar, where Atkinson grew up, and they all have strong local identities.
He said the news industry continues to wield influence in the UK, citing the Daily Mirror’s recent Pride of Britain Awards as an example that "shows the influence that news brands still have".
Atkinson said the titles’ editorial integrity was a third asset, particularly in the digital world.
"They abide by a code of conduct. They are well researched, written responsibly and published in the right way," he said. "It’s important for advertisers that they can rest easy in their beds about where they are advertising."
Reach has stuck to an ad-funded, digital strategy and setting up an online paywall is "not a priority", according to Atkinson.
He said there is scope to create deeper partnerships with advertisers, such as the launch of a beer brand, Leopard Lager, to promote Red Dwarf on UKTV’s Dave and a month-long series of "good news" stories for Cancer Research UK.
Reach has a "healthy relationship" with Google and Facebook, but Atkinson said: "There’s an opportunity for premium publishers to differentiate the kind of inventory we have from the tech platforms. Professionally produced content, underpinned by regulation, does differentiate our content from user-generated content."
Reach generates an estimated £240m a year in ad sales, but it does not split out national and regional revenues.
The group’s share price has fallen about 20% this year as trading has remained tough.
Reach has also paid millions of pounds to settle historic claims of phone-hacking and cut almost 700 jobs last year to maintain profit margins.
The group expects to make efficency savings of £20m a year by 2020 from buying the Northern & Shell titles.