Newspaper rivalry belies the need for more cooperation

It's been another entertaining week in the newspaper business. While the fur continued to fly between Associated Newspapers and Express Newspapers over trading practices and the small matter of an Office of Fair Trading investigation, Trinity Mirror's recruitment of the larger-than-life former Sun marketer Ellis Watson can only lead to an intensification of the rivalry between the Wapping and Canary Wharf tabloids, writes Ian Darby.

Yet, in the midst of this traditional sparring, the newly created Newspaper Marketing Agency launched its first initiative, a sales package that involves all the national titles guaranteeing advertisers space alongside Rugby World Cup editorial. An interesting dichotomy seems to be at work here, with bitter, personal rivalries at one level and a spirit of co-operation emerging at another.

Obviously, this begs the question -- how realistic is it for us to expect the national titles to maintain this dual personality over the long term?

Some of the signs are good. While we might think the sight of national newspaper ad directors sitting around a table would resemble a knees-up thrown by the Montagues and Capulets, relationships are generally good. A healthy respect rather than slanderous mischief-making seems to characterise relations between opposite numbers in newspaper ad departments.

Whether or not this is a wicked sham will become apparent over the coming months, but it is the contention of the NMA chief executive, Maureen Duffy, that it is quite natural for newspapers to both compete and co-operate. Many believe she was handed a poisoned chalice, but it may not be the case given that the breadth of the NMA's remit seems less ambitious than many feared.

Unlike some other trade bodies, such as the Newspaper Society, it won't be so involved in pushing for changes to trading systems or lobbying on ownership regulations. Its role is confined to better marketing of an increasingly unfashionable medium and the early intentions of fostering better solutions for advertisers and proving more detailed research are good. However, its most pressing and relevant challenge might just be pushing for better creative standards in national press advertising.

Encouragingly, part of the NMA's brief will be talking to creative agencies about this issue and it will be interesting to see how much responsibility the agencies themselves accept for the lack of genuinely good campaigns. Newspapers remain a powerful medium yet, looking through them this week, it was hard to find a good ad.

The exceptions were the ones that played with the medium rather than chucking a line of copy and a banal visual at a black-and-white space. Honda's activity in Saturday's Guardian stood out: its polybagged CD of Wieden & Kennedy's "cog" TV ad was lovingly produced.

It would be sadly ironic if the future of press advertising relied on the distribution of ads from rival media.

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