Mike Anderson, the man who returned to Associated Newspapers to help create Metro, has now been handed the much harder task of stemming the circulation decline at sister title the Evening Standard. He will also have to put his explosive energy to the test in reversing plummeting ad revenues at the newspaper.
If Anderson succeeds on both counts, he is likely to rise fast within the Daily Mail & General Trust (DMGT) empire, which includes Associated Newspapers.
Media buyers attribute Metro’s rise in fortune and its highly desirable young, urban readership to Anderson’s abilities as a fresh thinker.
It was one of 34-year-old Lord Rothermere’s first decisions as DMGT chairman to give the green light to Metro, and he is keen to see if Anderson can use his talent to revitalise the Evening Standard as its new managing director.
The Evening Standard’s September circulation stands at 418,754 copies, a 7.68 per cent bounceback from August’s seasonal big dip. However, its total average circulation for April to September is 410,514, which is 3.98 per cent down on the same period in 2001.
The newspaper’s recruitment ad revenue has been hit hard as the capital feels the impact of the economic slowdown – it is down 25 per cent year on year. Associated Newspapers, which also includes the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, has experienced a total ad revenue fall of nine per cent for the year to September 30.
Anderson has already taken action at the Evening Standard by giving ad director Mike Orlov his marching orders. He has replaced him with former CIA UK managing director Alan Brydon (MW last week), an erstwhile colleague from Anderson’s days at the media agency. Insiders expect more changes as Brydon will seek to mould a fresh ad team.
The appointment of Brydon, who has never headed a sales team, surprised buyers. One senior agency figure says that if the appointment is to pay off, Brydon must be given plenty of freedom as well as a firm deadline to sort out the newspaper’s problems.
There is also speculation within the industry that Anderson, who remains responsible for Metro’s future development, will try to merge both newspapers’ sales teams, but Associated denies this is its strategy.
Anderson was given a fairly free rein to experiment with Metro. The Metro was launched as “a defensive measure” to protect the Evening Standard against a potential incursion into the London market from Swedish media company Modern Times Group. He came up with the label “Metro moment”, reflecting the fact that the newspaper is aimed at an urban audience at peak commuting hours. Buyers say he also streamlined the ratecard to make it an easier sell, and they grudgingly admire the way he managed to treble ad rates.
One media buyer says Anderson brought a “refreshing” approach and introduced several ideas, such as posting a flatplan on a website so buyers could see which spaces were sold.
Cynics might say Anderson has moved on at just the right time. While Metro is on course to make a small profit in the final quarter, London’s recent Tube strikes have disrupted distribution and alienated commuters. Also, observers fear its reader catchment is limited: the much-touted youthful urban audience may well be just a London phenomenon. Buses form part of the distribution network in other cities, and buyers claim they are the transport choice of an older, more downmarket demographic. Associated says there is no demographic research available for regional readership, and that the newspaper “prefers to think of itself in national terms.”
It is questionable whether Anderson will be given as much freedom at the Evening Standard to use his talent for radical, hands-on management, which has in the past delivered results. The Evening Standard is a different beast to the Metro, being a long-established brand, and a product which consumers must make the effort to buy.
Insiders say long-term strategy is not one of Anderson’s strengths and that he becomes restless if results do not come quickly. One source says: “He is going to have to form a strategy and stick to it over a reasonable period of time. He has to understand that if he doesn’t do that, he will not get very far.”
Observers suggest that if Anderson meets the challenge he will secure himself a place in DMGT’s succession line. It is Anderson’s 40th birthday this month – the senior management at other titles are pushing 50 years or older. “A lot of people on the commercial side have been there for a long time,” says a buyer, “and they just carry on doing what they do without making waves. Mike has made some waves.” However, one insider warns that Anderson should not ruffle the feathers of Associated mainstays such as Daily Mail managing director Guy Zitter, adding: “You don’t want Guy as an opponent, rather as an ally.”
DMGT usually fills its senior ranks from within. Although Anderson arrived at Metro in1999 from PHD, he was not a complete stranger to Associated’s culture, having worked as head of client sales at The Mail on Sunday and the Standard in the past.
Anderson is not the only heir apparent. Stephen Miron, former commercial director at The Independent, has made some impact as managing director of Associated New Ventures. He recently oversaw Loot’s redesign and is now acting managing director at the recently relaunched Ireland on Sunday, bought from Scottish Radio Holdings last year. There is strong speculation that Associated is planning a mid-market tabloid for the Irish market, which could serve as another proving ground for up and coming managers.