Why is the Evening Standard putting its £10m advertising account up for pitch (MW last week)?
Managing director Andy Mullins, who joined Standard publisher Associated Newspapers last month, has criticised the knocking campaign and its strapline, “There are papers. Then there are Standards”, as short-termist and defensive.
He is drawing up a pitch list from five ad agencies, including incumbent The Law Firm, which created the campaign. An appointment is expected this month.
The review is part of a strategy to change the paper’s advertising and revive its ailing sales. Mullins says of the previous campaign: “We suddenly have massive competition. The tagline was a bit defensive and short-termist. It’s not the future.”
It may have been a knee-jerk response to the 900,000 London freesheets that now compete for readers against the 50p Standard, but observers have criticised the advertising for erring on the negative side.
Look on the bright side
Future campaigns, says Mullins, will address the benefits to Londoners of buying the Standard. This is just what they have not been doing of late. The paper shed 18% of its circulation in the six months to 31 March, though Associated says its circulation, as measured by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, has stabilised at around 266,000. The ABC also shows that bulk distribution of free copies is beefing up its circulation by 66,000 copies.
Increasing reliance on bulk distribution and Associated’s decision to cull its lunchtime distribution of London Lite to help the Standard has led some to question the long-term viability of the Standard’s paid-for business model. Rob Lynam, press director at Mediaedge:cia, says: “If an increasingly high proportion are bulks, it begs the question of whether the model is sustainable in the London market. As Londoners become more used to getting their media free, will there come a tipping point for the paper?”
Others think the Standard is over the worst of it. Vanessa Doyle, acting head of press at Initiative, says: “The numbers are better than expected. We thought it would have lost more than 18%. I think that if the Standard was going to close, it would have done so in the first six months following the arrival of the freesheets.”
To date, the Standard has met the competition by repositioning itself as a more upmarket paper and increasing its cover price from 40p to 50p. Media buyers argue that it should champion its upmarket status in new advertising campaigns.
Mullins, who was previously general manager at Times Media, hints that there will be no more changes in cover price at the Standard, saying there is a huge advantage to buying the paper with one coin.
But he admits the Standard is under-exploited as a proposition to consumers and media buyers, which prompts suggestions that it has been slow to adapt to the changing newspaper landscape. It recently launched a website for its Homes & Property magazines as part of its brand extension strategy, and the paper’s website, thisislondon.co.uk, is admired.
Long term strategies
But media buyers have called on it to offer advertisers more of a cross-platform opportunity, such as that offered by the Telegraph Media Group, as well as upping its investment in the brand. Alex Randall, head of press at Vizeum, says: “Running advertising campaigns is a short-term solution. It needs long-term investment in the brand – in editorial, for instance.”
Mullins, a former Diageo and Unilever marketer, has a history of using promotional devices to boost sales, though whether he will adopt similar strategies with the Standard is unclear.
What is clear is that Associated has no plans to pull the Standard from a market it has been in for over 100 years. Whether it will be forced to merge the Standard with the free London Lite to survive, as some have suggested, remains to be seen.