Investment in change looks good for Express

Can Richard Desmond turn the Express titles around? Although attracting advertising and readers will be tough, Tony Evans thinks the signs are promising

At the time of the sale of the Express titles, experts said that it would take an estimated £100m investment to turn them around. In addition to this, rival Associated Newspapers, owner of The Daily Mail, has already shown that it is going to do as much as is needed to protect its leading position in the market.

Associated has allegedly set aside £4m this year, for marketing and cut-price offers that will deliberately target Express readers. Questions have been raised about whether a battle between the Express and Associated is a mis-match, because of the Mail’s much larger circulation.

But it was not that long ago that the circulations of the Mail and the Express were the other way around, showing that time and investment can make a huge difference. Apart from anything else, Associated’s actions show how seriously it is taking this new threat.

Richard Desmond, the new owner of the Express, is not short of a bob or two, but at present he is still not likely to have access to war chests the size of Associated’s. If he sells his 50 per cent share of West Ferry printing (which he acquired as part of the purchase of Express Newspapers), Desmond could have an estimated £40m to fight the cause.

The Express runs a shorter column length than the Mail. Increasing the size to match the Mail should allow it to put in more ads and generate extra revenue.

However, the Express already struggles to supply readers as cost effectively as the Mail, and often loses business through sheer refusal to compete.

Attracting more advertising will be a tough thing to do before the newspaper has increased the number of readers and as a result its worth to advertisers. With advertising revenues likely to dip this year, pulling this off could prove to be difficult.

So far, the changes reported are all very positive. There are several editorial changes in the pipeline, including the addition of big-name columnists and, of course, the anticipation of a new editor.

The new format for the Sunday Express and a new-look magazine supplement, which will be similar to OK!, also represent a significant investment.

Big changes are required to rekindle the interest of old readers and attract new readers, and Desmond’s promises do seem genuine. In the past, so many of the promised changes to the Express have been little more than a slight “meddling”.

I believe that anyone who is going to turn a title such as the Express around will need a fairly hefty pair of boots to achieve this. Such footwear doesn’t come much heftier than that worn by Richard Desmond and his management team.

Tony Evans is business director at MindShare

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