Claire Beale analyses Len Sanderson, in line to lead Telegraph/Express
For a man so publicly back-slapped for being Mr Straight, Len Sanderson
is perilously close to coming full circle.
The deputy managing director of the Telegraph group began life selling
ad space on the Express. He could soon be doing it again. For Sanderson
has a vision to create a new newspaper sales house (Campaign, 10 May).
The idea is to cut costs (staff, admin, research, systems) by pooling
the advertising resource of the Telegraph group and Express Newspapers.
It’s not something Sanderson is ready to talk about - officially - yet.
But he wastes no time in claiming it as his baby, in his usual
determinedly modest mode.
Caroline Marland, the managing director of the Guardian and Observer,
former colleague, fully paid-up member of the Sanderson fan club and
godmother to his son, says the sales house idea has been a Sanderson
dream for many years. ‘He’s quite evangelical about it, he’d rather be
doing this than anything else in the world.’
It’s revolutionary, it’s risky, it’s mould-breaking stuff. It’s all the
things that Sanderson hasn’t been able to enjoy for quite a long time.
He’s spent nine-and-a-half years at the Telegraph. Too long, some say.
He has built one of the most solid, respected and successful sales teams
around, but has Sanderson himself been getting stale? Maybe. Most agree
that this sales house idea is Sanderson’s chance for media immortality,
and he’s more likely to pull it off than most.
Sanderson - 43, cricket fanatic, golf enthusiast, family man,
competitive as hell - is used to breaking moulds. When he joined the
Telegraph he was hardly their usual sort of sales johnny. He didn’t go
to the right school. In fact he hardly had any education at all. And
then there’s the accent.
And his early career was hardly a good springboard for a would-be
Telegraph top dog. After leaving school at 15, Sanderson joined the
army, where he clearly learned the art of playing the tough bastard (an
act, he insists). Selling tobacco for Gallaher followed, then came the
Daily Express job, which he hated with a passion. He worked with Toby
Hoare, now the chief executive of Young and Rubicam, and they spent many
a lunchtime together at the pub wondering how to escape.
To the Express Newspapers’ beleaguered ad department - which has, let’s
face it, survived a pretty smelly time in the past 18 months - it could
seem like Sanderson is out for revenge. As one insider puts it:
‘Whenever there’s a merger, one side inevitably gets fucked. It looks
like it’s our turn.’
Sanderson’s loyalty to his own team is certainly clear: ‘If you surround
yourself with people who are better than you, you’re bound to succeed.’
But he is insistent that this will be a partnership: ‘I’m sure there are
staff there who could teach us a thing or two.’ There are no
preconceptions about the people structure, he says.
The rationale for the sales ‘merger’ is simple. Sales concentration, as
in the TV market over recent years, is the future of media sales,
Sanderson believes. And with the death of newspapers’ old baronial
structure, there’s more opportunity for co-operation between publishing
For co-operation don’t necessarily read conditional selling. This is
about maximising resource. An arm-twisting group sell may make sense in
TV where there are a relatively small number of advertisers spending a
lot of money. The newspaper ad business isn’t like that. ‘When I go out
to lunch with Edwin Sharpe [Unilever’s media manager], I have more money
in my wallet than he spends with us,’ Sanderson jokes. Buyer be
reassured, he says.
Perhaps Sanderson’s greatest asset, when it comes to reassuring
advertisers and media buyers, is his record of professional integrity.
Having spent four years of his career at the Guardian, Sanderson comes
stamped with that paper’s reputation for grooming excellent but entirely
decent sales people. John Ayling, a fellow cricketer - who clearly does
not bear a grudge against Sanderson for his brace of 100s at the Oval -
describes him as ‘logical, tough but fair and a great team player’.
Sanderson himself hopes that his peers regard him as straight. ‘I don’t
much care what people think of me at the end of the day,’ he braves. ‘I
wouldn’t like it if someone thought I was a shit though.’
If Sanderson can survive the next few crucial months and build his sales
house without being called a shit, he will indeed be a rare breed among
salesmen. Keep your ears pricked down at the Express.
The Sanderson file
1979 Daily Express, sales executive
1983 The Guardian, display ad manager
1987 The Telegraph,ÿ20display ad manager
1993 The Telegraph, director of ad sales
1994 The Telegraph, deputy managing director
1996 The Telegraph, engineers the creation of a Telegraph/Express sales