Shifting sands leaves a gulf at the Guardian

“If you project for five years or a decade ahead, the notion of the printed newspaper or digital is not a discussion. The discussion is the practicalities of getting from A to B as fast as you can while taking the right people with you.” This was Marc Sands, now the former marketing director of The Guardian, speaking to Marketing Week four weeks ago about the future of newspapers as they continue to evolve to new platforms.

On Tuesday, The Guardian released the news of a board restructure at Guardian News & Media (GNM). As a result, the board level role of marketing director is being shelved and Marc’s association with the brand is to end after almost a decade.

Adam Freeman, commercial director at GNM, will take on the new role of director of consumer media. This means all responsibility for marketing is added to the tasks of overseeing display advertising sales, newspaper sales and the financial performance of The Guardian, Observer and guardian.co.uk.

As the dust settles on the initial announcement, this looks like straight cost-cutting. The Guardian Media Group, owner of GNM, did after all post a pre-tax loss of nearly £90m for the year to the end of March. We already knew that GNM was looking to reduce its costs by making £20m in savings across its commercial and editorial operations.

None of this is strange to anyone who has worked in any capacity across national newspapers or magazines.

In fact, of all the stories of cuts that emerge from the inner bowels of media organisations so regularly these days, there’s a certain level of conviction in the restructuring of this particular brand as it prepares itself for a new decade, only weeks away.

Let’s remember, The Guardian’s website may have fallen behind its rivals in terms of straight numbers recently, but it pretty much invented newspaper publishing online in this market. This is a brand that has had innovation in its DNA in recent years. Forget the Berliner format with its full-colour pages and offerings like The Guide and Comment is Free, The Guardian’s G2 virtually created the second section now copied by everybody from The Times down.

Editor Alan Rusbridger draws mixed reactions from media folk, but there isn’t a national newspaper editor more innovative, more excited about and more prepared to engage with the digital world, even if at times it has smacked of turkeys voting for Christmas.

The GNM board will, however, look back one day and regret the loss of a pure marketing role. On page 7, Tim Brooks, managing director of GNM, talks about Freeman’s new role. He will try to “deepen and monetise relationships” with the brand’s dedicated audiences, among other things. A marketer’s role but with so much more to do. A part-time marketer will inevitably perform less well than a full-time marketer, given the confidence of his colleagues to drive revenue through creative conversations with an audience. Something Sands is a specialist at.

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