The papers’ tiger must start roaring

Agencies are worried at the lack of noise from the Newspaper Marketing Agency, supposed champion of the medium’s benefits. By Branwell Johnson

It is almost six months since the Newspaper Marketing Agency (NMA) was launched, with a mission to convince clients to direct more of their ad spend toward the national press. However, media agencies are beginning to grow restive at a perceived lack of substance and contact.

The NMA’s chief executive is Maureen Duffy, former daytime controller of ITV. The agency is funded by the national press (barring the Financial Times, which supports the NMA’s aims but claims it operates in a different advertising market).

Media agencies say there has been little communication with the NMA and are questioning the feasibility of the cross-newspaper advertising packages that are being developed. As one buyer says: “How does putting packages together fit in with the marketing of newspapers?”

The Rugby World Cup and the Paris Fashion Show are two events for which cross-newspaper packages are being developed and priced by the Newspaper Publishers Association’s (NPA) advertising executive (MW last week). The idea is to create deals that will offer advertising space next to editorial covering these events.

New figures illustrate the need for the national press to put a concerted effort into winning new clients. Year on year, national newspaper advertising expenditure fell by 2.4 per cent at current prices to &£494m in the first quarter of 2003. This compares with rises of 1.7 per cent for TV, 2.1 per cent for radio and 16.8 per cent for outdoor (source: Advertising Association). With a few exceptions, national newspaper circulation is also falling.

The NMA plans to make its first major statement to the wider world of agencies and clients at an “inaugural event” on July 23. The agency is expected to present top-line findings, based on wide consultation, on how newspapers are perceived by the advertising community. There will be particular reference to research on targeting male sports fans.

Media experts are sceptical as to whether cross-paper packages can work in the fiercely competitive world of newspapers. Much depends on the eventual price offered, but Manning Gottlieb OMD press director Mark Gallagher points out that each of the UK’s newspapers appeals to a very different demographic and says: “Few if any clients will have the diversity of brands and range to warrant doing something in every title.” Regarding the Paris Fashion Show, he points out that the environment of a glossy, aspirational magazine differs considerably from newsprint and that strong arguments will be needed to persuade clients to put money into the press.

Gallagher suspects that buying into a cross-paper package will lead to wastage and believes that better value can be gained by approaching individual sales houses where “you negotiate as hard as possible”.

MediaCom director of press buying Steve Goodman is alarmed by the impression that the packages will be offered only to new clients. He says: “The NMA has to be careful to get the balance right and, in the rush to attract new clients, not to alienate those clients that support the press.”

Mail on Sunday advertising director Sue Dear, speaking before she left the newspaper (Media, page 13), counters Gallagher’s “wastage” criticism by saying the members of the NPA advertising executive, which is pricing the packages, are aware that not every newspaper may be suitable for a given event. Individual ad directors are prepared to bite the bullet and sit out an unsuitable deal in the expectation their turn will come.

Duffy says: “These packages are simply a way to encourage advertisers and agencies to think about the vast potential of newspapers to meet their objectives. They also make the medium more accessible for some and, for agencies, improve the time efficiency of working with newspapers.”

She points out that more than one package might be developed for a single event – the Rugby World Cup, for instance, could be the basis for a package for young men and a package for an upmarket readership.

Independent radio stations occasionally offer advertising opportunities across multiple stations: the IRN Newslink package, for instance, offers the chance to buy nationwide airtime after the news. These opportunities preceded the creation of the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) 11 years ago. The RAB, which many see as a template for the NMA, supports the idea of national sales packages but is not involved in their development or creation.

Zenith Optimedia commercial director Greg Grimmer says: “The RAB has based most of its success on effectiveness. I’ve not seen anything from the NMA on effectiveness.” However, he points out that in the light of the RAB’s success, people forget that it got off to a slow start.

Agencies do see potential in cross-newspaper deals, but what they really want from the NMA is more in-depth research, case studies and a centralised database. Duffy says she is working towards this and a business plan is being drafted for approval by the NMA council. A website will be launched in late July, featuring a creative gallery of newspaper advertising and effectiveness case studies.

The national newspaper market is notoriously competitive, with publications slugging it out daily. Duffy will need to call upon all her experience in advertising – she spent 15 years at J Walter Thompson in positions such as group media director, strategic communication director and world partner, and is a former BBC Broadcast controller of marketing – if she is to make the NMA a success.

But one buyer says she faces a tough battle for credibility in an industry in which she is regarded as an outsider and which expects quick results on any project. Duffy herself strikes a more optimistic note: “If I had not believed that there was a spirit of co-operation among the newspapers I would not have turned up for the formal interview, let alone taken up the job.”

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