In many ways, Carolyn McCall represents a new era of newspaper
As well as being poised to move into the top slot at The Guardian -
probably sooner rather than later - she is also set to lead the paper
into an electronic future.
’I hope I’m not traditional in the way I think. I hope I’m fairly
radical,’ she says. ’When people say to me, ’It’s always been done this
way,’ I say: ’But why? Why don’t we change it?’’
Change is McCall’s mantra. In fact, change has been the one constant in
her career. Since arriving at The Guardian in 1986 as a planner, her
rise through the ranks has been meteoric, involving promotion roughly
once a year. She has also gained a solid grounding in new media.
’I love the internet,’ she enthuses. ’I understand it and can see its
benefits. But I also know advertisers and consumers.’
She is braced for convergence and believes both journalists and sales
staff will need to learn new skills to survive the cultural shift.
’Everything we think we know about media will change,’ McCall warns.
’Brands will be fundamental, but they must cross from newspapers into
other media, taking brand values with them.’ She has already identified
classified ad revenues as vulnerable and has made it a priority to
integrate recruitment sales into a website.
Her first exposure to the net was through The Guardian’s association
with the UK version of Wired. The partnership with Wired’s US parent
dissolved amid bitter recriminations on both sides. But McCall learned a
lot from the experience and used it as a plank for The Guardian’s net
’We learned not to just take print content and put it on to the web but
to do something original that worked for the medium. The Hotwired site
was completely different to Wired magazine,’ she explains. ’I also spent
three weeks working in Wired’s office in San Francisco and took our
sales staff out there to be trained.’
What emerged from the experience was Guardian Unlimited, The Guardian’s
online operation. ’It’s doing so well - a strong brand with great people
- but it was a huge challenge for me,’ she recalls. ’I had to start
dealing with web designers and techies.’
But McCall is highly adaptable. Her first big change of direction at The
Guardian came when the managing director Caroline Marland persuaded her
to move from planning into sales with a pounds 5,000 increase and a
company car. She quickly moved up to group head, her toughest job yet. A
year later, McCall was deputy ad manager and was almost lured away to
Channel 4 by Andy Barnes. But Marland gave her the task of setting up a
team developing sponsorships and added-value supplements. Out of this
activity came the much acclaimed Guide and Weekend Guardian.
With the acquisition of The Observer in 1993, McCall was charged with
merging the two sales teams. She knew there would be casualties, but
managed the task without too much acrimony by ’communicating for
England’ and no doubt by employing her renowned charm. She is
universally liked and respected by her peers. ’I would love to discover
the skeleton in her cupboard,’ one jokes.
So what would the preacher of change like to change about her own
’Nothing,’ she insists. ’Except I’d like to get to the gym more
MCCALL ON HOW TO GET AHEAD
’Don’t get bogged down in politics. Be straight and transparent and
people will respect you for it. Be true to yourself. Say what you think
regardless of what you think people expect you to say. Don’t stay if
you’re not enjoying it. It will show.’