Two contrasting thoughts pervaded media agencies following the departure of Mike Ironside as the managing director of The Mail on Sunday last week.
The first was a feeling of sadness that a loyal and respected member of the Associated Newspapers management was leaving. The second was a real willingness to work with his successor, Stephen Miron.
And you clearly can't underestimate the hard-headedness of most press buyers. After a few hours of shock, most seem to have come to a conclusion along the lines of: "The king is dead, long live the king."
The circumstances of Ironside's departure are still shrouded in mystery and observers are offering several theories as to why he might have resigned after 14 years.
Miron, 38, says he doesn't know why Ironside left. He received a phone call at home last Monday night offering him the job and was in his new office by Tuesday morning. He denies he's had his eyes on the job since rejoining Associated.
Given his background, Miron's appointment seems like a logical one that can't simply be explained away by his good relationship with the Associated chairman, Lord Rothermere. Before leaving Associated, to become the commercial director of The Independent, he spent ten years at The Mail on Sunday rising to ad manager. His time at The Independent and, on his return to Associated, running the free ad paper Loot and new-media ventures, brought him wider commercial experience.
So what has he inherited? The Mail on Sunday's circulation is falling (its September sales was down 1.8% year on year to 2,266,088). There is a need to stabilise and sustain this. Observers hail the strength of the weekly package, especially the You and Night & Day magazines, but point out that The Mail on Sunday is especially exposed to the downturn in financial advertising.
Miron says: "I've inherited a very successful newspaper. I'm not looking for the cracks but looking at the successes and building on them. It's a tough challenge because I couldn't have taken on a more successful title."
He says that the newspaper will continue to operate a separate sales force from the Daily Mail to maintain "separate personality, style and vigour". He also believes that this makes the title less susceptible to agency demands.
So why did he return to Associated, especially when it seemed a marginal role compared with his experience on national newspapers? "I wanted to do something that would stretch me. The brief was to take the Loot business and transform it."
He also says that the chance to work on developing Associated's new-media offerings was something that enticed him back. He brought in Andrew Hart as the managing director of Associated New Media and claims to have increased new-media revenues and cut losses by 50 per cent.
Miron describes his management style as "open" and says he has a "creative and entrepreneurial spirit" while being loyal to the teams of people around him. He has worked with the ad director, Simon Davies, before and praises the changes Davies has introduced since replacing Sue Dear earlier this year.
Paul Thomas, the head of press at MindShare, says: "Stephen has a bigger profile. He'll be out a lot more championing the glory of The Mail on Sunday. Mike [Ironside] was more internally focused."
Miron is baffled that, after 18 years in the newspaper business, he can be labelled as a young gun. And observers say that his experience outside the core national newspaper market will be as much of an asset as any perceived youthful dynamism.
Steve Goodman, the group press director at MediaCom, says: "There's a buzz and passion about him. He's a thoroughbred newspaper man but, with his insight into new media , it will be interesting to see how he integrates this."
Outside the office, Miron is a keen golfer, maintaining a handicap of eight and a membership of Wentworth. His 19-month-old daughter, Georgia, also keeps him busy.
Miron says that his key challenges are to further develop You magazine and find ways to "add value" for readers. He believes that the free distribution of Andrew Neil's The Business with The Mail on Sunday is working but is considering "how much more of a package we give the paperboy".
He isn't that impressed by efforts from his rivals: "I'm glad The Sunday Times produced its CD-Rom [The Month]. We've done CDs before but wouldn't have backed it with a whole year's marketing budget as a strategy. I'm not sure that the content delivers and we will be thinking of other ideas to build the core-retention figure."
A reputation as a tough and uncompromising operator will stand Miron in good stead as agencies have high expectations for the delivery of both innovation and increased sales. One press director says that he is the right man to invigorate a product that otherwise risks "being stuck in a timewarp".
The Miron file
1985 Independent Television Productions, sales executive, TV Times
1988 Mail on Sunday, agency sales executive to advertisement manager
1998 Independent News & Media, commercial director
2002 Associated Newspapers, managing director of Associated New Ventures
2003 The Mail on Sunday, managing director
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