Many in the advertising industry were surprised by The Guardian’s decision to appoint Wieden & Kennedy to its &£5m advertising account, but the newspaper has always done things its own way. Mark Choueke finds its traditional values hold true, but it has an eye on the future
The Guardian divides readers’ opinions like no other national newspaper. It provokes strong feelings of contempt in its critics, who deem its coverage of the world to be smug, self-satisfied and sanctimonious. Loyal readers, however, claim their favourite newspaper has an alternative, critical view that separates it from its rivals. Guardian aficionados continue to believe their chosen morning read is radical in a way that other newspaper brands would not dare to be.
This contrary nature was demonstrated again last week when The Guardian surprised the advertising industry by appointing Wieden & Kennedy to handle its &£5m account (MW last week). Many felt the newspaper’s marketing director Marc Sands would opt for a continuation of his relationship with Paul Hammersley and David Hackworthy. The former chief executive and chief strategic officer respectively of incumbent DDB London, are both now at The Red Brick Road, which lost out in a final pitch against W&K.
According to industry observers, the appointment proves there is no such thing as a shoo-in. “Every pitch you contest,” says one source, “has some implication regarding a previous relationship which the losing agency uses to claim a stitch-up – but a genuinely foregone conclusion is rare.”
One rumour doing the rounds is that The Guardian initially had every intention of handing the business to The Red Brick Road but it was ultimately a matter of W&K’s work being better.
However, Sands denies there was any prior notion to keep the account in the hands of Hammersley and Hackworthy. “As a client, you don’t really pick an agency, they are all pretty much the same. You pick individuals within an agency that you can trust with your business,” he says.
“The people at DDB to whom we had entrusted our account had left and we had changed too, so we decided to review. When you open an account up to pitch, it’s completely dishonourable to know already that you’re giving the business to those you know. Yes, The Red Brick Road had the advantage of knowing us but it was a genuine pitch.”
W&K managing director Neil Christie adds/ “The Guardian’s pitch team was quite happy to sit there arguing openly with each other in front of us. At that point I thought we’d screwed it up and was surprised when they called us to contend a second round against The Red Brick Road.”
The announcement of a new agency was followed this week by the appointment of Tim Brooks, managing director of IPC Ignite!, as managing director of Guardian Newspapers Limited. He replaces former chief executive Carolyn McCall, who moved in July to fill Sir Robert Phillis’ role as chairman of Guardian Media Group.
The management team hopes to continue what has been a successful year. Last September saw the introduction of editor Alan Rusbridger’s preferred Berliner format – common on the continent but entirely new on UK newsstands. Since then, The Guardian has received endless plaudits and awards for design, content and new branded products.
The newspaper’s branding has been attached to numerous technological advances in delivering content across a range of platforms. These includes the group’s blog site Comment is Free – already one of the world’s top 100 blogs according to technorati.com – and G24, a regularly updated printable version of breaking news for commuters to read on the journey home.
Ten daily and weekly Guardian podcasts will soon carry advertising from a range of clients after the newspaper signed up to podcast advertising tool Tambor, owned by Tangozebra. Most recently, The Guardian finished July top of the market in year-on-year growth of paid-for circulation (minus bulks) at 354,485, 4.9% up on 2005.
The brief to the agencies was to create a brand campaign that reflected the multi-media presence of The Guardian. Sands says it has a “totally different agenda to all other newspapers”. Its priorities are to reach as many consumers as possible across the world and to remain at the forefront of innovation. Sands adds: “We’ll continue to change and develop, there will be no ‘killer move’ but rather the continuous rolling ball of using technology intelligently. If you aggregate the changes we’ve made over the last two years, such as the decision to print news stories on our website before they’ve appeared in the newspaper, you’ll see the direction we’re moving in.
“But new products and advances will be made hand-in-hand with the newspaper product. All these commentators sounding the death knell for the newspaper are talking out of their arses.”
Sands states that The Guardian’s management team is excited at the prospect of “a totally uncertain future in terms of how we receive information”. He adds: “The market for information is bigger than ever with new doors opening everywhere. We need to be there to address it and won’t be restricted by borders. We have a liberal journalistic agenda and want it to be read by as many people as possible no matter where they live. But we are a business and our revenue needs means cloth must be cut to fit accordingly.”
Steve Goodman, managing director of print trading at Group M, says The Guardian is right to ensure its brand is seen to provide for consumers globally on many different platforms. Although Rusbridger told Marketing Week earlier this year that he views ABC figures in their current form as “parochial and meaningless” (MW March 30), Goodman doesn’t see that as a problem.
“It’s the way all good media brands should be thinking. In the future, a brand’s entire portfolio will be measured and published across ‘brand certificates’ rather than just circulation figures,” he says.
“The Guardian sales team will be able to tell clients that its brand can help them buy into consumers across many platforms. We’ll be interested in the total audience and not just those who read a newspaper.”
ABC director of newspapers and consumer magazines Martyn Gates agrees: “Publishers continue to evolve the way they deliver content to their customers. Working with the industry, ABC is looking at ways to measure and report multiple platforms and brands to ensure both buyers and sellers of advertising continue to have a transparent and independent currency.”
DDB London’s advertising for The Guardian is widely regarded as being successful in shifting the brand into the present. W&K’s job will be to keep pace with the changes in technology and help take the brand into the future.