The next managing director of The Guardian, Caroline Marland, has broken the glass ceiling by getting to the top of an industry dominated by men. Chris Boulding finds out how
The old Fleet Street was full of smoke, alcohol and men. Even by the standards of the Seventies, work practices were old-fashioned and there was certainly no room for women to be in charge. But that was just what Caroline Marland, then at The Times, was looking for.
“I wanted to manage. They’d educated me on courses but no one let me manage,” says Marland. “Within Thomson, (the then-owner of The Times) then, it was just not part of the culture of the organisation to allow a woman to manage.” In 1976, The Guardian was supposed to be different – it had a woman as news editor, Jean Stead – so Marland joined the paper. Last week, as if to justify her confidence, she was named as the next managing director of the paper.
Her appointment is certainly not a testimony to the progress of women’s rights since the Seventies, but to her own energy and subtlety in dealing with those around her.
“She has amazing enthusiasm,” says Pattison Horswell Durden managing partner David Pattison,who works on the Guardian account. “But she’s also a great enabler, who’s very good at motivating other people to fulfil their potential.”
As sales director of The Guardian since 1983, she has had to confront ingrained dislike of the paper’s values from some members of the press-buying corp. But even the self-confessed hard nuts find themselves admiring her commitment. CIA Group chairman Chris Ingram, who admits “you won’t find me gushing about people”, bestows the highest compliment: “She’s obviously a business person as well a sales and marketing director.”
Marland first worked for a newspaper in 1969, when she signed on as a “tele ad” – selling classified space on the phone – with the Yorkshire Post. She soon realised newspapers fitted her temperament, and after four years moved on to join The Times and then, at last, The Guardian.
Since then, The Guardian’s business has become her business. According to colleagues, what she can’t do with facts and figures, she makes up for in charm. Former Saatchi & Saatchi media director Alec Kenny remembers how, after a row with the agency lasting several months, he received a real olive branch from Harrods. “Caroline went to the store and said `you’re Harrods, you’re supposed to sell anything’, and they went to Israel and got one.”
As her responsibilities grew to encompass the entire sales department, Marland struck up an evolving partnership with Peter Preston who, as editor for nearly 20 years, has had plenty of time to evaluate her skills and style.
“She’s al-ways a driving leader, but as she pushes on, she doesn’t make people feel resentful,” says Preston.
In the course of that time, the public perception of The Guar-dian has undergone a sea-change of reader image – away from the socks and sandals social worker.
The extent to which these changes were driven by Marland’s reforms of the commercial side of the paper are sometimes underestimated. At the time, The Guardian’s grasp on the classified market was decidedly weak compared with then market leader The Daily Telegraph. Marland claims one statistic from 1979 jolted her into recognising the Guardian’s potential strength in this market: 74 per cent of Telegraph readers were too old for the jobs advertised.
Based on this, The Guardian produced an ad campaign showing Telegraph readers in bath chairs, sporting ear trumpets, and being pushed along by bright young Guardian readers.
It was at this stage that Marland and Preston began to evolve the strategy of harnessing editorial subjects – and their respective classified sections – to specific days of the week. They were fortunate that The Times also chose this moment to go on strike, removing itself from the streets for a couple of years and leaving the path clear for The Guardian to soak up far more of the professional recruitment market. This in itself helped leaven the “cartoon perception of what The Guardian was all about” with a more commercial, serious feel, according to Marland.
It was a time when, by her own admission, there was a coincidence of interest in the editorial and commercial agendas, but with- out Marland, many in-siders think the transformation would have faltered.
“There’s quite often a suspicion that commercial people are going to erode the independence of editorial; she managed to overcome that,” says WPP director Jeremy Bullmore, who worked on The Guardian account at the time. This meant that without undergoing the kind of seismic upheaval that shook both The Times and The Telegraph in 1986, The Guardian found it possible to remodel itself as a commercially-run business.
The paper’s dramatic re-launch in February 1988 was the outward sign of this transformation, which culminated in the birth of the tabloid second section. Throughout, Marland’s was the guiding hand, ensuring strategic and editorial ideas made their way off the drawing board and onto the page.
Modestly, she suggests her role has largely been confined to budgets and targets – something not borne out by those who worked with her. But she nevertheless cites it as the reason why being married to the Conservative MP Paul Marland is irrelevant to her job of running a left-of-centre newspaper.
“I’m not a journalist. My business is a commercial one, so there’s never been any conflict,” claims Marland. When she finishes at The Guardian on Friday, she is off to help out in “our” constituency in West Gloucestershire at weekends.
She is one of those continually active people whose approach to everything bears the same businesslike stamp. Even when she chaired Royal Marsden Hospital’s appeal committee four years ago, her deputy, Lyndy Payne of the AAR, remembers she whisked through every session like a board meeting, cutting off speakers after their alotted eight minutes and leaving everyone with a job to do before the next meeting.
Some people imagine there is something slightly quirky about her cheeriness. But Telegraph ad sales director Len Sanderson says this is deceptive.
“She’s a very tough businesswoman, and a formidable commercial adversary. If she sees anything she thinks threatens her position, she will fight like an alleycat,” says Sanderson.
When her long-time boss Jim Markwick steps up to take over the running of Guardian Media Group at the end of the year, Marland will need every ounce of this fighting spirit. The integration of the Observer, which The Guardian bought two years ago, has gone relatively smoothly. But the hoped-for lift in circulation shows no sign of happening.
With Markwick’s attention increasingly taken up with diverse media interests, Marland will be faced by a daunting task of piloting two papers, with recently-appointed editors, in a market in long-term decline. Well, she did ask for it.