News of Clive Milner's promotion to group managing director of News International's newspaper division caused barely a ripple in media circles. For most, it reaffirmed the belief that he is being groomed to replace Les Hinton, the executive chairman of NI, when he retires. Milner, after all, has worked at NI for 23 years and his CV shows his steady ascent through the ranks.
Things could have been very different if he had followed through on his teacher-training degree. But, due to limited opportunities in this field in 1979, Milner landed his first job as a sales executive on The Observer. Two years later, he joined NI when it was owned by Thomsons. He has since watched its takeover by the media mogul Rupert Murdoch and its move to Wapping. He has worked across every part of its business from broadsheet to tabloid, at one point swapping management roles with his wife, Camilla Rhodes, who is the managing director of News Group Newspapers.
Milner hints that there are quite substantial reasons for the creation of his new role. One of the things he is likely to investigate is whether NI should move out of Wapping and buy a printing plant elsewhere.
"News International is thinking very hard about the future strategic direction," Milner states. "While we are very good at title-centric strategies, given our size and scale, we have to get it right in both a News International and title-centric sense. There are large-scale decisions that publishing businesses have to make - some around manufacturing investment going forward. These things come in 20- to 30-year cycles."
Now the compact Times is up and boosting circulation, Milner will be watching how compacts affect the broadsheet market. Compacts could kill off broadsheets, he says.
Milner is also keeping a close eye on the freesheet market and the possibility that an afternoon newspaper could launch. "There isn't a newspaper company that wouldn't be interested in that, but the issue is how it would be conducted," he says.
The appearance of the new men's weekly format with the arrival of Emap's Zoo Weekly and IPC Media's Nuts will also give Milner food for thought.
"It's not something that we haven't thought about," he admits. "Sharing the marketing power of the titles we have and harnessing them for paid-for magazines is something we are continually looking at. We have brought out wholly owned products in the past or had joint ventures with other publishers." But don't expect a knee-jerk reaction from NI. Those who know the organisation say it will watch the performance of the new titles and research the market heavily before it makes a decision.
Milner is unwilling to trumpet any of his achievements, but the success of The Month, the monthly entertainment CD-Rom published with The Sunday Times, is said to be down to him. And, according to Tim McCloskey, a managing partner at OMD UK: "He was one of the architects of how NI became much more agency friendly."
Fortress Wapping may appear ominous from the outside, but Milner says newcomers are always pleasantly surprised by what they find. "I know everyone thinks we are fed on red, raw meat. It's about making sure that we've got professional, collegiate and thoughtful people."
Although Milner is a man who knows exactly what he wants and how he needs to get it, colleagues say he is charming, affable and straightforward. McCloskey says: "He's always had his own style. He's a good listener and thinks about what goes on in the company and the companies related to NI."
Tim Kirkman, the sales director of Hachette Filipacchi, who worked on the NI account during his previous job at Carat, observes: "He's a brilliant manager but he understands how the creative process works, which makes him one of the most successful newspaper men around."
Milner's willingness to listen and take on board other people's views is echoed by Paul Bainsfair, the chairman of TBWA Europe, who has worked on NI's creative account. "The relationship between media owners and agencies can be fraught. The reason for this is that clients think that what the agencies do is a version of what they do. The great thing about Clive is that he grew up on the advertising side and so he has a healthy regard for the skills of the advertising community."
Milner works hard, but knows how to enjoy himself. McCloskey recalls a trip to a casino with Milner which had a strict jacket-wearing policy. When Milner saw the media tycoon Kerry Packer stroll in without a jacket, he quickly removed his and, despite the protestations of a casino employee, declared: "When you tell Kerry Packer to put a jacket on, I'll put mine back on."
The Milner file
1989 The Sunday Times Magazine, ad manager
1991 News of the World, commercial director
1993 News Group Newspapers, director of advertising to managing director
2001 Times Newspapers, managing director
2004 News International, group managing director, newspaper division
If you have an opinion on this or any other issue raised on Brand Republic, join the debate in the Forum here.