Paul Dacre: a superb editor who was devoted to Mail readers but had no time for advertisers
A view from Guy Zitter

Paul Dacre: a superb editor who was devoted to Mail readers but had no time for advertisers

As Paul Dacre steps down after 26 years as editor of the Daily Mail, the paper's former managing director Guy Zitter recalls a formidable operator.

As managing director of the Daily Mail, my brief from the proprietor (both father and son) was clear: "Put circulation first and if you succeed profit will follow." 

When Paul Dacre arrived on the board of the Daily Mail in 1992, circulation was around 1,500,000.

Not one member of that board, including Paul, would have believed it possible that the circulation could have increased to nearly 2,500,000 in a declining national newspaper market.

Paul regarded his job as looking after his mid-Britain Mail readers and reflecting their interests in the newspaper.

They are typically a married couple and she makes most of the decisions, including what newspaper comes into the house.

They have two children, a mortgage and a dog. They want their children to have a good education, be safe on the streets, have decent healthcare, be able to pay the mortgage.

The entire editorial line develops from that.

Any problems with distribution (snow, fire, terrorism) could never get in the way of his polishing his beloved newspaper to the point where it was the best that it could possibly be.

It would be ready when it was ready.

This meant more press capacity than would otherwise have been necessary.

It also led to the occasional odd decision, like not to evacuate the Kensington office at 3pm on a Friday despite the fire brigade waving at us frantically and a smell of smoke being very noticeable.

The concerns of the advertisers were not his problem.

He was going to deliver millions of loyal Daily Mail readers to them and if their ads and products were good enough, it would work.

Would he like to meet some advertisers? "No."

Would he like to meet some agency executives? "No. They are mostly spivs and charlatans."

His insistence on launching a very expensive TV listings magazine when the sector was de-regulated took Saturday's circulation from the lowest of the week up to 2,900,000. 

His focus on detail was extraordinary and often seemingly beyond reason.

He would move an ad around the newspaper seven or eight times and then ask for it to be thrown out.

This was when the advertising percentage was still way lower than budgeted.

In short, Paul was a managing director's nightmare to work with and we had some moments where the ceiling tiles trembled.

But would you rather work with a difficult, totally focused individual who delivered a superb, on-brief product, or a charming, acquiescent editor who didn’t understand or focus on his audience?

Guy Zitter was advertising director of the Daily Mail from 1989 to 1994 and managing director from 1994 to 2014.