The sales team at the Express, awaiting the arrival of new group sales director Andy Jonesco from The Telegraph next month, ought to know how he feels about time-keeping.
“He is the kind of guy who doesn’t take clients to an industry award ceremony. That way, all of his sales team can get pissed,” says Rhidian Crighton-Stuart, marketing manager at Virgin Radio and one of his former employees-cum-disciples.
“Instead, he will pay for all the drink, all night long, and send you home in a taxi at four in the morning. Then, when you’ve spent the night face down on the hall carpet, you must – absolutely must – be at your desk at nine o’clock the next morning.”
Those who have worked for Jonesco, 38, whose elevation from display director at The Telegraph to be the Express’ new group ad sales director was announced last week, rave sickeningly about his talents as a people manager. They say things like “He’s a god,” or “brilliant, demanding, inspiring and honest”.
At the Express, Jonesco is going to need to be all of those. For starters, he is going to have to sack people. Clive Hollick, chief executive of United News & Media, who has effectively taken over Express Newspapers, is renowned for keeping a tight rein on costs. There has already been a clear-out of 85 journalists from the editorial side of the newspapers and it is widely expected that the advertising sales department is next in line.
Jonesco’s appointment is seen by many as signalling the start of the purge. He refuses to comment on his plans, claiming: “I have to talk to the staff about their success and what the problem areas are. There are going to be no wholesale changes at this stage.”
But the need for the knife in some way explains the removal of the widely-respected Christine Costello as ad director to make way for Jonesco. She had been with the company for 12 years: “A new person can be so much more clinical about removing people than someone who has worked with them for years,” says Richard Britton, press buying director at CIA Medianetwork.
People have been fleeing The Express’ sales team throughout the summer – ever since Stephen Grabiner, also from The Telegraph, became managing director and the aborted sales merger with The Telegraph came to light (MW July 26). Those people have not been replaced, so Jonesco may find there is not that much cutting to do. Buyers, however, report that the Express remains top-heavy compared with other newspaper groups.
There is no evidence that Jonesco has ever really had to wield the axe at any stage of his career, but as well as being respected by those who have worked for him, he also inspires fear.
“He took me from being a reasonably good salesperson to being a bloody good salesperson by his relentless demands,” says Kathryn Jacob, sales director at Virgin Radio and a former Telegraph employee. “There is never any second best with him. You need to know everything inside out and back to front before you ever try to talk about it.”
Others find him a hard task master: “I don’t think he endears himself to all of his staff,” says one senior press buyer. “He can be very hard on them, very bullish and quite dogmatic.”
Jonesco’s bullishness is probably what the Express is looking for in the future. Hand in hand with cuts, Grabiner and Hollick have invested in new magazines for the titles and are planning a major marketing campaign. Their expectation has to be that they can reverse the newspapers’ long-term sales decline and when that happens they want a sales director who can push through some ratecard increases.
The Express’ sales team is regarded by agencies as a pro-active, imaginative operation. But, as one cynic puts it: “It’s popular because it sells its space cheap.”
But CIA’s Britton believes the new boy can deliver and change the reason for the popularity of the Express’ sales operation. “Jonesco has presided over rate increases at The Telegraph and he’s the right man to do it if they get sales up.”
He started his career in media as ad manager on Hi-Fi Answers magazine in 1978. From there, he moved to the Radio Times as a sales executive in 1984, entering the world of newspapers in 1985 when he became a group head at the Daily Mail. In 1987, he moved to The Telegraph as a group head of sales, before being elevated to display ad director at The Telegraph last year.
However, some people question whether Jonesco’s previous experience really prepares him for the job that needs to be done at the new Express group. Since merging MAI with the Express, Hollick has made it plain that extra value is going to come from exploiting the newspapers’ synergy with his television holdings – ITV sales house TSMS, broadcasters Meridian and Westcountry, Channel 5 and some independent production companies.
TSMS has already held talks with the Express about joint sales deals across TV and the newspaper and, as Jonesco says, “just because no one else has done it, doesn’t mean it cannot be done”.
He is now part of the media group that will make the programming for ITV’s Formula One coverage and broadcast it in two regions. United News & Media is keen to exploit any potential synergies. But agencies want to know if Jonesco is going to be the man to handle it, as opposed to Malcolm Wall, head of Anglia (which is producing the content), or Jerry Hill, head of TSMS (which will sell the airtime).
“There has to be some kind of process put in place that can manage cross-media deals,” says Mike Anderson, business development director of CIA Medianetwork. “Clients want deals that cross from TV to sponsorship, promotions and newspapers, but they don’t want to spend nine months talking to everybody under the sun trying to get it off the ground.”
Casting a cloud over the whole move is the failed Telegraph-Express sales merger. It was to be Jonesco’s next move – running two newspaper groups. He has been at The Telegraph for eight years and some believe he should have moved three or four years ago, instead of remaining number two to deputy managing director Len Sanderson.
However, he chose to develop Sanderson’s vision of the future – a merged sales point for newspapers which was presented to The Guardian and The Financial Times, as well as the Express.
When The Telegraph pulled the plug on the deal, it frustrated his ambitions and a move became inevitable. A close relationship with Grabiner made the changing Express the inevitable destination.
Everyone you speak to about Jonesco emphasises his professionalism and loyalty to his staff. Many also talk about how “hard” he is. He is going to need a combination of all three if he is to bring the upheaval at the Express to a close and set it on a path for future success. Those who are not at their desks by nine o’clock be warned.