What can other newspapers learn from the Indy’s David Greene?

Taking a cursory look at the latest performance data for national newspapers and their websites, David Greene’s decision to call time on his role as marketing and circulation director at Independent Newspapers might appear prudent.

Greene, who is leaving in May next year, as revealed on Marketingweek.co.uk, may be a rarity among newspaper marketing chiefs: holding the top job for seven years in an industry not known for such longevity.

His successor will come to a paper which, like its newspaper peers, faces challenging times. Its flagship daily newspaper, The Independent, was one of the biggest year-on-year fallers in circulation across the paid-for national newspaper market in November. It dropped over 8% to 233,423, according to figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), while The Independent on Sunday also suffered a dip and has been unable to prove that its summer revamp will be a long-term success.

Making a loss
Both papers are loss-making for parent company Independent News & Media (INM). The Independent.co.uk, meanwhile, is undergoing a revamp, but attracts as little as one-fifth of the traffic of competing sites, according to estimates from Nielsen Media Research.

The Independent newspapers may have carved out a position as innovative, issue-led newspapers, but observers believe Greene’s challenge of competing against the marketing war chests of Guardian Media Group (GMG), News International and Telegraph Media Group (TMG) is one of the toughest around.

Greene admits as much, but argues the titles have proved pioneering and stimulated change across the newspaper market, with their careful brand-building approach to promotions and The Independent’s move from broadsheet to tabloid in 2004.

He says: “We have between four and five people in our marketing department and probably have half the marketing spend of some of our competitors, such as The Guardian. What I am most proud of is going to compact size and the language course promotions we have offered our readers.” The Independent’s pioneering move to tabloid format was initiated by Greene and stole a march on competing broadsheets, with The Times and The Guardian switching formats soon after.

Mediaedge:cia press buyer Rob Lyman says: “This was one of the biggest changes to the newspaper market in ten years and caught the newspaper market by surprise.” He says that since switching formats, The Independent’s circulation figure is up, and it is the only one of its competitors to have achieved this.

Others point to the INM titles’ promotions strategy, which has focused on “self-help” and education topics, and the merger of marketing and circulations departments across the two – a move aped by rivals – which they say has tempered the papers’ failing circulations.

Simon Bell, former marketing director at The Times, says: “The Independent has done some innovative brand building. It has identified self-help promotions as key and built promotions around it.” 

Playing to his strengths
Marc Sands, marketing director at The Guardian and The Observer, agrees, pointing particularly to the strategy of running promotions across both daily and Sunday titles.

Greene suggests that he has avoided the revolving door of other newspapers’ marketing directors, as well as focusing on innovation and on having a smaller marketing budget, which he believes plays to his strengths. He also suggests that his background, as circulation director for more than 60 magazines at IPC Media, is also key to his seven-year INM tenure. Perhaps his peers with larger mark-up budgets should take note.

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