The European finds its niche

Andrew Neil has pulled out all the stops to sharpen The European’s focus as a business paper and boost its fortunes. But he may find the hard work has only just begun. By John Shannon. John Shannon is president of Grey International.

Transforming The European from a general interest pan-European newspaper into a hard-hitting magazine targeting the international business community represents, arguably, the greatest challenge yet to its editor in chief, Andrew Neil.

For many years The European limped along, giving itself an occasional facelift to hide the flaws that always prevented it from becoming required reading for the people of Europe. When it was first launched, a number of media commentators argued that its ambitions were too broad to attract advertisers in any numbers. The only way for it to succeed, many believed, was for the paper to target a tightly-defined market. In other words, business people.

Now Neil has been granted authority to effect real change, it seems The European may at last be ready to take its place alongside established international business publications such as The Economist, The International Herald Tribune, Newsweek and Time.

During the three months since its relaunch as a tabloid newspaper (the transitional phase before becoming a magazine), Neil’s news sense, refusal to bow to the establishment line and skill in selecting hard-hitting headlines have been clearly in evidence. The paper may remain committed to the European Union but equally – Neil has been reported as saying – it will be ready to expose corruption, inefficiency and over-blown bureaucracy in Europe’s governmental and legislative processes.

In addition, Neil is using the magazine-style cover to raise questions about major issues and developments affecting business and industry in the region. Typical examples are the paper’s recent investigations into Europe’s alleged failure to grasp the financial potential of the Internet (“Lost in Cyberspace”) and the problems facing Europe’s car industry (“Crunch time for the Car”).

Neil evidently sees The European of the future as being in direct competition with The Economist, but with a visual style closer to that of Paris Match. The evidence so far suggests that its editorial will be considerably more provocative than The Economist, although it will inevitably cover similar ground.

Comparisons such as this, however, obscure the fact that for the first time The European appears to be gaining a clear identity and focus of its own as a hard-hitting, energetic and investigative business paper.

So far Neil has relied on bold headlines to attract attention on the newsstands. But building the paper into a powerful media brand that appeals to affluent international readers and attracts upmarket advertisers will require more than editorial instinct and the lure of the newsstand.

Ultimately, it implies an evaluation of the paper’s core individual strengths and a consistent and long-term communications programme to ensure its values become established de-finitively within its new target readership.

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