How much do newspapers need the NMA?

Express Newspapers’ dispute with the Newspaper Publishers Association (NPA) once again throws the spotlight on the industry’s trade bodies and their relationship with those funding them.

Last week’s dispute centres on Express Newspapers’ failure to pay a bill of £100,000. The newspaper group also withdrew its support for the Newspaper Marketing Agency (NMA), the marketing body for the national press.

It is understood Express Newspapers felt it was not receiving sufficient return on its investment; a claim the body’s “mercurial” chief executive Maureen Duffy would be keen to dispute.

While the NPA, founded in 1906, has a remit to represent, protect and promote the national newspaper industry, the NMA’s role is rather more focused, and – founded in 2003 – it’s a relative newcomer.

Seven national newspaper groups backed the launch, funding the NMA in return for research and marketing initiatives designed to raise the profile of national newspapers. Yet Duffy, who took the helm from launch, faced criticism from advertising and media agencies – the very people the NMA was trying to court – who were sceptical about its aims and objectives.

BLM head of press Jo Blake says that when the body was formed people did not see the need for it. “But now it’s here it’s done a lot to promote newspapers,” she adds. “If anything, I’d like to see it closer to more agencies.” Group M press trading director Steve Goodman endorses the view that the NMA has grown into a useful source of research, and acknowledges its skill at marketing the medium, and the different ways it can be used by advertisers. The NMA provides training for junior planners and seeks to build and maintain relationships with clients and agency planners.

Improving client relationship
“It has been getting better at it,” Goodman says. “As it evolves the newspapers are seeing better results and are willing to put more into it in terms of time and money. This has led to an improvement in the way the medium is seen by clients. Duffy’s approach has been quite innovative.” Duffy began her career at JWT, first in media then in account management, before becoming BBC Television’s first marketing director, reporting to Sue Farr, then BBC director of marketing. She later moved to programme commissioning at ITV and a spell at TV production company Endemol.

Farr, now executive director of Chime Communications, calls the NMA’s appointment of Duffy “inspired”. “She is a natural advocate and has a good marketing and brand background, says Farr. “She is creative and looks for new angles on things.” Duffy has been praised for an ability to overhaul departments and build teams from scratch. She is described as “passionate” and “committed”, although some say she can be mercurial. Her personal qualities are said to have played a large role in the task of aligning competing newspapers to a common goal. A job Farr describes as “a bit like herding cats”.

Digital predictions
One observer of the NMA’s development says: “Raising awareness and being cogent about the argument for newspapers is one thing, but whether that reverses a trend or merely prolongs the inevitable I’m not so sure.” 

Yet Duffy predicts that digital – far from killing off newspapers – will prove a huge area of growth for the industry. Digital offerings will increasingly run alongside print editions and be complementary, says Duffy.

And she says the NMA is still at the heart of selling the medium. Figures demonstrate the body is “definitely” having an impact, she says. “We have reversed declining trends in terms of advertising revenues in the categories we have addressed.” 

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