Trinity International’s purchase of Thomson Regional Newspapers has left more advertising sales jobs in doubt than editorial jobs.
Not many titles are expected to close. The only ones under threat are the defensive free newspapers that the large publishing groups such as Thomson have held onto since the Eighties’ boom in free-sheets. These have been maintained to keep competitors out of local classified ad markets, and are under-performing in the new era of high newsprint costs.
The major change will be in the area of ad sales. Trinity’s refusal to confirm whether or not it bought Thomson’s national sales arm, Thomson Media Sales (TMS), as part of the TRN deal has caused confusion. Senior TMS staff have been told that Trinity has “TMS in its plans”. But Trinity is making no statement about its plans until the TRN deal receives regulatory approval.
TMS would seem the nat ural home for the enlarged Trinity/Thomson group. O&M Media head of regional press Howard Bareham believes it is only Trinity’s size that has so far stopped it from handling it own sales. “It can be an expensive option having your own sales force. You need operations in London and Manchester, and Trinity have never been large enough for it to make sense,” he says.
But TMS has now been weakened by losing The Scotsman and Aberdeen’s Press and Journal – not part of the Trinity deal. As two of the richest titles in the group, they were prestigious door-openers to agencies and clients when trying to sell a national package. That nat ional package no longer exists.
Trinity sees itself more as a newspaper publisher than an ad sales company and has always devolved responsibility for its ad sales to a number of sales houses. Amra handles the majority of its titles, MediaForce handles its Scottish and Universal newspapers, and Clacksons the North Wales and Argus groups.
It is Trinity’s tradition to have lean central administrations and strong regional centres responsible for generating their own revenue. A strong operation is unlikely to sit well with such a tradition.
CIA Medianetwork associate director Jane Chaplain believes another reason for Trinity keeping on external sales houses will be the likely loss of staff at TMS as they wait for the outcome of a Monopolies & Merger Commission report. “I think they’ll find that they don’t have the experience left to handle their own sales immediately, and Amra has handled it well for the past five years,” she says.
Press buyers agree that Amra seems to be going places. It recently employed Roy Jeans, ex-general manager of Zenith, and won the Croydon Advertiser group contract last week.
Meanwhile TMS has been plagued with a series of management losses over the past year, including sales director Keith Robinson, his replacement Chris Stanley (who left last week) and Alan Renwick, group marketing development manager.
Agencies want to see Trinity set up its own sales team to stop Amra getting too strong. It already has about 22 per cent of the market and the Thomson titles would take it to nearly 35 per cent. Such growth scares press buyers. “The last thing we want to see is Amra getting any bigger. It would be too dangerous for one player to have so much dominance,” says one.