Express’ mistakes leave St Luke’s with tough task

In Monty Python and the Holy Grail a distressed Black Knight says: “I’m invincible. Running away ‘eh, you yellow bastards – I’ll bite your legs off.” The knight on The Express’ masthead is similarly distressed, so it was no surprise to hear that its management had this month changed advertising agency in the quest for its personal Holy Grail – a rising readership.

Since January last year, the newspaper’s reported circulation has fallen every month bar August. Leo Burnett was appointed back in April and must have been encouraged when the paper’s circulation rose by 28,000 copies in August, while the Daily Mail’s fell by 33,000.

However, when The Express’ millennium scratchcard promotion petered out in September its circulation fell once again. Meanwhile, arch-rival the Daily Mail created a better promotion, Lucky Wallets, and marketed it very well. It put on 109,000 sales during September and went on to out-sell The Mirror and become the country’s second best-selling newspaper.

So is The Express that Rosie Boycott has created really that bad? I don’t think so. However, its continual reinvention must be bewildering for lapsed and new readers alike. It must become more focused, with sharper advertising and marketing.

The Express this month appointed a new agency, St Luke’s, which produced the recent commercial offering a free personal horoscope to every reader. On paper, it was a good promotion, but it was hardly original – and poorly executed.

I doubt whether trumpeting Marjorie Orr so overtly as the best astrologer in the business holds much water. The best in what way? Surely the News Of The World’s Mystic Meg is more popular. And in only having to provide the time, place and date of your birth, The Express horoscope was hardly the most comprehensive.

The Mail once again got it right. While The Express offered a free five-page personalised booklet or an in-depth 25-pager for 17.95, The Mail gave out a free 40-page personalised horoscope and, more importantly, advertised the fact that it was worth more than 20. Such a package doesn’t come cheap but the gains are there for the taking.

Arguably, there is little choice but to invest in The Express. The “red tops” intend to move upmarket, while The Sunday Times has dumbed down to widen its net of potential readers.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Associated Newspapers is to launch a daily London freesheet, the London Metro, to be distributed on the London Underground. The ageing profile of The Express means young upmarket readers – which is exactly the profile of London Underground users – are at a premium.

A weak Express is not good for advertisers. Let us hope that St Luke’s comes with a new war chest and fresh management insight to take the fight to its rivals.

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