Telegraph Media Group’s marketing chief Katie Vanneck is jumping ship to join rival Times Media as sales and marketing director, but some experts are questioning the wisdom of the move, saying that falling sales have reduced the role of newspaper marketers to little more than “promotion and giveaway merchants” battling to resuscitate a moribund market.
Newspaper marketing campaigns are scrutinised more than almost any other sector, because of the availability of daily sales figures. An unfortunate byproduct of this is that newspaper owners and editors, for the most part, pay little attention to marketing chiefs with brand ideals. As one media expert says: “No one bothers advertising newspapers and investing in the brand. It’s all about short-term stuff.”
Times Media’s newspaper titles, like TMG’s, continue to haemorrhage readers and Vanneck’s predecessor at Times Media Simon Bell is understood to be looking for a job outside the newspaper industry. Vanneck, observers say, would have been advised to follow his lead. Others, however, believe that Vanneck has landed herself a plum job. Overseeing the Times’ highly-regarded brands and new media platforms with a substantial marketing budget puts her in an enviable position, they argue.
Times Newspapers may be a loss-making operation, but owner Rupert Murdoch has already spent £10m relaunching Times Online earlier this year. A further £600m has been earmarked for improved print facilities. Vanneck, it appears, will have money to spend.
Chairman of Interbrand Rita Clifton thinks Vanneck and her peers have an increasingly important role to play, as newspapers move into potential new revenue streams, whether it be online or TV. Clifton says: “Newspapers have entered new sectors and they have to be more sophisticated, which presents greater opportunities for marketers. When circulation figures are under attack, it encourages more open-mindedness.” This may be true, but Vanneck will have to shout loudly to be heard above the group’s other departments when it comes to the direction the media company should take.
In her new role, Vanneck will oversee the marketing strategy across a range of Times Media platforms, including newspapers, products and digital. She previously spent almost ten years with the publisher, culminating in her rise to promotions director in 2003, before being lured to TMG as its marketing director.
Vanneck’s decision to return to her former employer came after swingeing budget cuts were forced upon her marketing department at TMG (MW last week). But Guardian News and Media marketing director Marc Sands believes Vanneck’s marketing ambitions were not completely aligned with TMG.
He says: “I’m not surprised by Katie leaving the Telegraph at all. She will have greater opportunity to flex her muscles in her new job. The Telegraph uses a very old model, and some of its campaigns – like Read a Bestseller – had nothing to do with the newspaper.”
Vanneck says it was the lure of the bigger job that made up her mind. “One of the reasons the position at Times Media appealed to me so much was the idea of co-ordinating sales and marketing – the two should go hand in hand,” she adds. “One of the key challenges for any marketing director is the creation of customer values and revenues. You need both sales and marketing pulling in the same direction towards this goal.”
The Times’s newspapers, along with the Independent and the Evening Standard, are among those which combine marketing with other disciplines, such as sales or circulation. But others, like The Guardian and The Observer, keep the functions separate.
David Greene, Independent Newspaper’s long-standing marketing and circulation director, believes some marketers come into the newspaper industry with false ideals about big brand marketing. He says: “It is all very well having a great brand, but you have to have sales figures to attract advertisers. You are the custodians of the sales of the newspaper.”
The key to Vanneck’s success with Times Media, observers say, will rest in her ability to manage and monetise its media brands across all platforms, while addressing circulation decline at its newspapers. The latest Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) figures reveal The Times’s circulation dropped year on year by 4% to 633,777 copies. Its full-price sales fell by around 37,000 in that period. The Sunday Times, meanwhile, has continued to suffer circulation losses since raising its cover-price to £2.
Queen of promotions
Known as the queen of promotions from her previous stint at The Times, some believe that Vanneck will look to ramp up promotions and giveaways across the papers in a bid to lure new readers. While giveaways, in some cases, erode reader loyalty, there is little doubt about their short-term effectiveness.
The key, according to newspaper marketing directors, is ensuring they are in tune with the newspaper brand. Greene, for instance, points out that The Independent’s “Learn Spanish” promotion was a “metaphor for the paper” and, moreover, claims it upped circulation by up to 90% on one day.
Vanneck says: “The bottom line is that readers love the giveaways and publishers and distributors get great marketing and sales benefits from them. They are part, not the sum, of our marketing mix.”
Whether this ethos will sit easily with Rupert Murdoch, an enemy of newspaper promotions, remains to be seen. Yet Vanneck and her peers refute suggestions that their jobs are about little more than orchestrating the next promotion in a bid to lift circulation levels.
Sands says: “One of the joys of the job is that every three months something new comes up and bites you on the bum. If you are marketing a Kit-Kat, for instance, it’s black and white. But the media is a grey area and, in other categories, you don’t have blogs where you can genuinely engage with people.”
Outside promotions, Vanneck can point to the inroads she made in expanding the TMG audience, particularly those under 50 years old. Digital CRM programmers were created around brands like Fantasy Football and crossword clubs, while observers praised Telegraph TV.
She identified direct marketing as a key function in luring new readers, and appointed Hall Moore CHI (now part of CHI & Partners) to its £8.5m DM account, replacing the ad hoc model used previously.
Subscription levels were lifted, with a high retention rate, and the group claims it has the number one quality newspaper website in the UK. Times Media will be hoping for more of the same when she starts her new role later this year.