As a feature elsewhere in this week’s Campaign shows, media owners
- and newspaper publishers in particular - can be a nightmare to work
with at the best of times. Recent evidence suggests, however, that the
Express is in a league of its own.
The usual charge levelled at publishers is they can’t see much further
than tactical promotions touting specific content or wheezes designed to
boost circulation and stimulate trial - everything from blunderbuss
cover-price cuts to competitions and games.
Agencies, if they can, grit their teeth, acknowledge this and get on
with it. But not even teeth gritting gets you far at the Express, which
sacked Lowe Howard-Spink back in April and, like the unrepentant
philanderer it now seems to be, dumped Lowes’ successor, Leo Burnett,
So what is so difficult about the Express? Three words go a long way to
providing an answer: the Daily Mail. While no great fan of brand
advertising itself, its success is proving hard to live with.
Lord Hollick, who bought the Express in 1996, has spent three years
demanding instant results. When you order something to happen yesterday,
you create what used to be called creative tension. Keep doing it and
you’re likely to get a lot of people running around like headless
Not only do you create a high staff turnover but there is a greater risk
of management conflict. If newspaper brands exist, then editors have an
enormous involvement in the stewardship of those brands. So they have at
least some say in marketing and advertising issues. But, according to
some sources, there appears to be no clear understanding about who has
ultimate responsibility at the Express - the former marketing director,
now commercial director, Paul Woolfenden, who joined in February; or the
editor, Rosie Boycott, who was appointed in April?
There has reportedly been conflict between the two - Woolfenden looking
for longer term branding strategies, Boycott demanding quick-fix
promotional gimmicks. However, some Express insiders say the problem is
more banal - when two people have the power to say no, at least one of
them will be tempted to demonstrate that power. Sources at Burnetts also
point out that the promised national brand campaign budgets didn’t
But, more fundamentally, you can’t build anything without a solid
cornerstone - and the Express has had more restructures, relaunches and
redesigns in the last few years than the Observer has had editors.
Woolfenden denies there has been any conflict between the editorial and
commercial wings of the paper but he does admit that the newspaper’s
positioning has fluctuated in recent times.
He adds: ’What I do want to make clear is that this branding versus
editorial content debate just didn’t happen. The branding thing was an
attempt to test whether it could have some role to play in a campaign
But there should be no doubt that content advertising comes first. We
are desperate to find a relationship everyone here is comfortable
The good news is that the brief he has issued looks promising. Young &
Rubicam, St Luke’s and RPM3 will pitch - Fallon McElligott and Burnetts
both declined invitations. One senior agency source who knows a thing or
two about newspapers commented: ’I was actually amazed when I saw the
brief - it looks incredibly challenging and exciting and, dare I say it,
’I’ve a pretty good idea why Fallon McElligott has declined to pitch.
It’s a young agency with high creative ideals and it probably feels it
doesn’t need this sort of hassle.
As for the rest - good luck to them. No doubt they all believe a leopard
can change its spots. Me - I just don’t believe it.’