Why Future Publishing must give Spring free reign

Interesting. That seems the most appropriate adjective to use when summing up Stevie Spring's decision to join Future Publishing as its chief executive.

It's a choice in which any logic is well hidden, for tucked away at the bottom of the three-page press release announcing Spring's arrival was a short line admitting that the publisher is also revealing its year-to-March results. It seems that Future is hoping that news of Spring would eclipse its latest figures: a £12 million loss on a turnover of £114.7 million.

Like all traditional media, the magazine industry is confronted by challenging times. Advertisers, both classified and display, are more than casually interested in what's on offer in the digital world. And readers are diverting leisure time away from established media channels.

However, Future's performance is not representative. The magazine sector as a whole has reacted to the tough market conditions with a staggering programme of innovation which in many cases has delivered impressive results. The latest Advertising Association figures showed that consumer titles managed to scrape a 1 per cent increase in share of total UK adspend in 2005. Not bad given the combined press sector fell by 3 per cent in the same period.

This increase was earned by a fantastic sense of dynamism, of which there has been scant evidence at Future. While IPC and Emap have invented the men's weekly sector, Hachette has taken a chance with Psychologies. The launch of an upmarket weekly was a brave move from Emap, but one that has paid dividends with Grazia storming the sector.

It is this kind of courage that Spring will need to bring to Future.

Perhaps her greatest weapon will be her outsider's perspective, something lacking in her predecessor, Greg Ingham, who joined Future in 1988.

Courage is not something Spring lacks. One can only assume that the scale of the challenge at Future is something she feels drawn to. She's a larger than life character, who enjoys sticking her neck out. Never afraid to say what she thinks, Spring will bring vibrancy and direction to Future.

There will be times that she has to curtail her views, however, because Future is a listed company. This is where the tension will arise as Spring takes responsibility. She has the potential to reform the company, but only if the shareholders allow her to take risks.

These shareholders would be making a mistake if they try to rein Spring in. Future needs to shed its conservative past and start experimenting.

Roger Parry, the company's chairman with whom Spring worked at Clear Channel, has clearly convinced her that the company is willing to change.

Indeed, media buyers already testify to an early sense of change at Future.

Its recent opening of a London office and appointment of Clare Dove as its sales director have raised its profile in the agency world. Spring's personality, combined with a desire to re-energise Future, should move it further up press buyers' collective speed dials.

UK readers are willing to try new magazine formats, and the fittest publishers are profiting from this curiosity. Spring's near-term challenge will be convincing shareholders that Future's new product development budget must be left intact despite any temptations to cut costs.

The early signs weren't good: the Monday lottery for some reason needed to appoint two advertising agencies to handle its launch (Us and M&C Saatchi).

Now the fledgling lottery finds itself on the brink of financial ruin, and its promotional campaign is being cited as one of the key contributors to its failure. Take a look at the ads. Their dark tone is all wrong for Britain's ever-optimistic lottery addicts. The campaign is reminiscent of the dotcom crazy era: bigger on budget than strategy.

- Claire Beale is on maternity leave.

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