The Telegraph titles might have changed more slowly than other papers, but they are still big sellers – and they are evolving. By Mark Choueke
With national newspaper circulations falling, the Telegraph Group is clinging to its broadsheet format. But bosses at the publishing group are coming under increasing pressure to abandon the paper’s heritage in order to boost flagging sales.
The group’s 2005 profits are reported to be 11 per cent down on last year, following an increase in marketing spend to compete against The Times. The price of The Daily Telegraph recently rose to 65p to offset some of the shortfall.
Though still the best-selling quality daily – 900,000, including bulks, is nearly 200,000 more copies a day than The Times – circulation figures are 1.5 per cent down for the six months to October, compared with the same period in 2004. The circulation of The Times, meanwhile, has increased by six per cent. The Sunday Telegraph, recently given a fresh look and additional supplements by new editor Sarah Sands, lags behind both its News International-owned counterpart – selling only half the 1.3 million copies The Sunday Times manages – and is shedding circulation faster than rival The Mail on Sunday.
Modernisation of the Telegraph brand appears vital, and it was highlighted as an issue in the Economic and Media Forecast report published this week by Omnicom’s pooled media buying group, Opera. New, younger readers are a must, and innovation and hard work are required to draw them in without alienating core readers.
Key personnel have come and gone since Murdoch Maclennan vacated his managing director’s chair at Associated Newspapers to become chief executive of the Telegraph Group in September 2004. Commercial director Dave King arrived from EMAP last January determined to change the company’s culture. He has since recruited relentlessly to get the job done quickly. Trading director Jim Freeman, sales director for magazines Simon Hills and group sales director Matthew Watkins all arrived, with expertise gleaned from stints at Zenith Optimedia, IPC Media and Times Newspapers respectively.
But Daily Telegraph editor Martin Newland’s resignation last month has added to the sense that things have yet to settle down after a year of commercial and editorial overhauls. Before leaving in the wake of the arrival of John Bryant as “editor-in-chief”, Newland introduced a tabloid sports pull-out and a heavyweight business section. Further evolution planned for The Daily Telegraph now appears to be stalled by his departure.
Sands may also feel undermined by Bryant’s appointment, but she has nevertheless brought a profound change to the Sunday title. Last month she got rid of the gothic black masthead, replacing it with a softer, more modern font in blue. Launched on the same day as two new magazines, female-oriented Stella and listings supplement Seven, the new Sunday Telegraph hopes to attract women readers aged between 20 and 50.
Sands’ profile has been raised by the sassier Sunday Telegraph, which she positions as “full of your favourite things”. The Sunday titles are fighting hard to win over women: The Independent on Sunday has switched to compact format, and the Observer is to launch monthly magazine Observer Woman. The exception is The Mail on Sunday, which recently launched Live, a magazine espousing all things “laddish”, in an attempt to provide gender balance to offset its high female readership.
Media commentators have been quick to attack recent changes to the Telegraph papers, suggesting that for as long as they remain broadsheet they are, in the words of one observer, “stuck in a curious limbo”. Others claim the management moves have dented morale – Bryant’s appointment came only months after former editorial director Kim Fletcher left a similar role. And after making 300 redundancies in February to pay for new &£150m printing presses, reporters have spoken of there being “more chiefs than Indians”.
But King is confident the Telegraph is seen in a different light by readers and advertisers alike. He says: “Newspapers are worthy subjects for other newspapers to write about, but we know what we are doing is working. The Telegraph is on a journey and nothing will slow us down. Bryant is fantastic and is surrounded by a strong management team.”
King claims responses to developments have been positive: “The business and sport revamps were common sense, in line with readers’ fast-paced lifestyles, and were loved by advertisers; and Stella is selling out of advertising space weeks in advance.”
While some observers would still like to see the Telegraph change format, others are more enthusiastic about the developments so far. Starcom Motive press director Adrian Pike says: “People’s perceptions of the Telegraph are positive for the first time in years. The management includes top people with good relationships in the industry and a belated, new approach to trading is making it a strong proposition.”
Pike concludes: “The recent Sunday magazine launches were the most refreshing thing I’ve seen from the paper in a long time. Will consumers go for it? It’s too early to say – but it looks good.”