Metro International has just announced the launch of its 30th newspaper.
The latest city on its list is Toulouse, which brings the number of French editions to four.
This year is an important one for the publisher of free-sheet city tabloid newspapers across the world. A crucial part of its strategy is to build an empire, giving it an ever-increasing global reach and bringing efficiencies of scale. But, early last year the company was in the doldrums, resolving not to launch another edition until it was in profit. Back in the black at the end of the summer, empire-building has resumed.
Being "the largest global newspaper in the world" is Metro International's top boast. Since it launched a fifth Spanish edition late last year and now the Toulouse paper, it now claims 30 editions in 16 countries. That's around 4.5 million copies a day with 13 million readers.
Of course, there are still gaps. Only two Asian countries are covered off. Then there's South America, where Chile is the only Metro outpost.
Metro has had a second, successful paper in the region - for Buenos Aires - but had to close it following Argentina's economic problems.
In the US, there are other obvious gaps. The Washington Post has taken the centre of political power and so far, Murdoch's News Corporation has done its damnedest to keep Metro International off the streets of New York city.
Even in Europe there are gaps including two markets - Germany and the UK, where Associated Newspapers launched its commuter freesheet, confusingly also called Metro. On an international sales level, the UK gap has been semi-plugged by a deal between Metro UK and Metro International. They can now sell each other, giving both Europe-wide coverage. It's the first deal of its kind that Metro International has struck. According to Toby Constantine, the company's vice-president for global marketing and research, it could be the first of many: "We're always talking to potential partners, whether for joint sales arrangements or trying to find business or commercial partners to launch new editions. Having a complete network is important."
But is this Holy Grail of a "complete network" going to bring in lots of money from global advertisers? Constantine says the company has an eye to advertisers wanting to spend money centrally, a trend he believes is on the up: "Increasingly there will be advertisers that want a one-stop solution. They will be looking to reach audiences through single media owners if possible."
With a central, London-based sales team, Metro International is putting more effort into wooing international advertisers. From just one or two multi-city deals in 2002, it upped the hit rate to 25 clients in 2003, each booking ten-city campaigns, on average. And the signs are that, with a recovery in ad revenues predicted, 2004 should continue to see new takers.
For some advertisers, it does offer a good package. The likes of the Levi's brand Dockers, Vodafone and British Airways have taken advantage of the flexible, multi-market deals. Last year, BA ran a pan-European campaign to encourage flights to London.
Karin Wickberg, BA's marketing communications manager, Europe, says that the tabloid gave just what they wanted to complement other media. "Metro newspapers target urban professionals, which corresponds with British Airways' target audience for the campaign. Metro gave us the opportunity to 'own' the newspaper for a week and, since it was all developed and co-ordinated centrally in London, we had full control over editorial, advertising and street activity."
The newspaper sells hard on its flexibility compared with more traditional newsprint operations. "We deliver much more creative executions," Lawson Muncaster, Metro International's vice-president of global ad sales, says.
He talks about wraps as virtual outdoor advertising and uses the "A" word ("we can be regarded as ambient"). Wickberg has seen the Metro International team in action: "The sales team at Metro created a complete solution, stretching across print, online and street marketing, and created a new format: a 'flip cover' London-themed newspaper, providing great reasons to fly to London. Throughout the week, the editions ran full-page features on London. Even the crossword was themed."
As well as the advantage of flexible creative campaigns, the paper reaches the younger demographic sought by advertisers and at an attention-grabbing time of the day. And Metro International has a policy of discounting multi-city deals. But how efficiently does it operate as an international medium?
At the Media Planning Group International, the media co-ordinator, Jason Hayford, suggests that Metro falls between two types of international media. "You have the multi-local consumer media such as MTV and then you have the premium multinational brands such as The Economist. Metro slips between the two."
Much of the centralised international buying is for business-to-business or premium brands, such as InterContinental Hotels. "We're interested in the top 10 per cent of consumers," Hayford says.
At Mediaedge:cia, Tom Brookbanks, the senior partner for worldwide client services, shares Hayford's view that it is rare for consumer brands to buy internationally. "Very few advertisers look at global solutions," he says.
But this won't distract Metro from its international plans. "We've just plugged the gap that exists in the UK and launched in Toulouse," Constantine says. "We have a programme of country and city expansion. This year there will be a number of significant city launches."
Number of editions: 30 in 16 countries - Western Europe France, Spain, Holland, Italy, Greece, Scandinavia, Sweden, Finland, Denmark Eastern Europe Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic North America (cities) Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, Montreal
Rest of World: Hong Kong, South Korea, Chile.