SPOTLIGHT ON: THE MIRROR: Is the Mirror on track with its latest editorial manoeuvres?

The effect of the overhaul programme is somewhat patchy, Alasdair Reid says.

The effect of the overhaul programme is somewhat patchy, Alasdair

Reid says.

That old cliche about ’having to run hard just to stay in the same

place’ could have been invented for the Mirror. Unfortunately, for many

periods over the last decade or so, the Mirror has had the athletic

abilities of an asthmatic dog.

This year, things were going to be very different. In January, the

Mirror Group began a commitment, expected to cost pounds 16 million over

two years, to overhaul the paper. An editorial relaunch has already seen

the word ’Daily’ dropped from the masthead and the introduction of the

picture-dominated, almost text-free front pages much beloved of

publishers on the Continent and in the US. That has been backed up on

the marketing side by promotions and tactical TV advertising.

The result? The Mirror’s average daily sale in January was 2,457,000,

down from 2,560,052 for the same period in 1996 - a year-on-year decline

of 4 per cent. However, the January sale was up by 150,804 copies a day

- or 6.5 per cent - on the December average sale. But performance was

patchy. In the week ending 4 January 1997, the paper sold an average of

2,770,000, which is excellent in a week that took in the tail end of the

festive season. Yet, by the last week in January, the daily average was

down to 2,370,000. That, in anyone’s terms, is perilously close to being

back at square one.

So, senior Mirror executives must have been feeling slightly nervous

last Tuesday evening when the Sun began advertising its latest audacious

marketing coup - a free giveaway tie-up with Camelot to promote the

first midweek lottery draw. The Sun printed and distributed eight

million copies last Wednesday and though there were complaints that the

stampede meant that loyal readers had to go without their paper, it was

an awesomely good promotion - especially considering it was paid for by


This in the week that the Mirror was spending more than pounds 1 million

to promote the launch of its new ’syndicate’ game. As a News

International source put it: ’They must be sick. They’ve spent all that

money launching their game and got nothing for it. We’ve blown them out

of the water.’

Do they feel sick? Not at all, senior Mirror sources say. The syndicate

promotion has been a resounding success and circulation was actually up

by 15 per cent on Camelot Winsday.

But, in general, they are pretty upset that the market isn’t giving them

any breathing space. The overhaul programme is only a month old and a TV

branding campaign broke only this week. The message is: give us a


But, in PR terms, the Sun initiative was a great success, especially in

the advertising world. Agencies tend to believe that the Sun’s ability

to steal the Mirror’s thunder is symptomatic. Colin Gottlieb, the

managing partner of Manning Gottlieb Media, argues that Mirror

management lacks chutzpah. ’The only one I’d exclude from that is the

editor, Piers Morgan.

Without him, I’d hate to think what the circulation would be.’

Priscilla Rogan, the deputy media director of WCRS, says that she’d love

to be proved wrong about the Mirror, but she believes that it is still

miles off the pace. ’We know that this market is price sensitive. It is

unlikely that the Mirror will put on sales while it remains two pence

more expensive than the Sun.

I’m also not at all convinced by the editorial changes - it’s trying to

be all things to all people,’ she says.

Rogan agrees that the paper still has to address some fundamental

cultural problems: ’The Sun is lively and dynamic in all aspects of its


The Mirror isn’t really proactive. It follows rather than leads. It

needs to inject some dynamism into the brand and then start promoting

that dynamism.

Easier said than done, I’m afraid.’