Denise West profile
West: will she get the Record heading in the right direction?Physically, you couldn’t find two more opposites than John Leslie, the former advertising director of the Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail, and the woman who is set to take over that vacant position, Denise West, the current managing director of The Insider Group.
Leslie is a towering six-footer while one hopes that West will not take offence at being described as petite. However, despite the difference in size, there is little doubt that West’s bark and bite are every bit as ferocious as anyone who has ever taken on the challice of bringing in advertising revenue for the Daily Record and Sunday Mail.
Despite rumours that former Record advertising boss Pat Moore could be set to turn her back on social work and return to Central Quay or that SMG’s Paul Genasi may be moving south of the River Clyde to take over the position, on 24 February West takes up what must be one of the toughest sales director positions in the UK.
Already, as she begins to tie up loose ends, perched high above Edinburgh’s Princes Street, within The Insider Group’s offices, she is thinking of the challenge that lies ahead.
“It is maybe a little too early to talk about the changes that I may make,” she says. “But my passion has always been newspapers, so it is great to be getting back into them.
“My two main areas of focus to begin with will be improving customer service and continuing to develop new business. We need to keep enhancing our position as market leaders.
“For a while we have been evaluating our sales development techniques so that people are getting the right information, which enables them to make informed decisions, and I am inheriting a very strong team and resource, with people like Ian McGilvary and Craig Houston recently joining.”
It seems since The Drum has been covering the Scottish media industry the Record and the Scottish Sun have been going at each other hammer and tongs. ABC reports over the last 18 months have shown that the Record’s circulation has been falling while the Scottish Sun’s has been increasing.
So, how will West ensure that the Record remains on the media schedules of all major Scottish advertisers?
“I do not want to expend too much energy worrying about what other newspapers are doing and what issues they are facing. My objective is to continue enhancing the Daily Record and Sunday Mail as Scotland’s market leaders.
“I don’t want to get bogged down in numbers, but the quality of the paper and the readership are my key concerns. There are always quality-of-environment issues to be addressed.
“I am going to be getting a head start anyway because I am on the operating board of the Record, so I am already aware of some of the issues that exist there. The other advantage for me is that a lot has been achieved over the last 12 months and they now have a great team in place, whom I know both professionally and personally.”
In fact, West now knows the vast majority of influential people who have worked in Scottish newspapers over the last 20 years, though it could have been a very different story had she pursued her initial career path.
Born in Aberdeen, West studied Law at Edinburgh University, achieving an honours degree. She then studied a diploma in Aberdeen, but it was her Saturday job, as a paper marker in the advertising department at Aberdeen Journals, which proved to offer her a preferred path.
After dropping out of a law traineeship, West secured a job in the promotions and marketing department at Aberdeen Journals in 1984. Under the managing directorship of Allan Scott she rose to the position of sales and marketing manager, but left to set up her own consultancy in Glasgow.
After working on the re-launch of the Newcastle Journal, from broadsheet to tabloid, and working with Thomson Regional Newspapers, West signed up full time as Thomson’s sales promotion controller at their headquarters.
In 1994 former Scotsman managing director Warwick Brindle recruited West as sales promotions manager. However, when Thomson put the Scotsman up for sale West again saw herself on the move joining Midland Independent Newspapers, as marketing manager.
Little did she know that MIN was soon to be acquired by the Mirror Group and, in turn, Mirror Group would merge with Trinity to form Trinity Mirro and her career was really set to take off.
She came back to Scotland in 2000, shortly after the Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail had acquired The Insider Group, at the request of MD Mark Hollinshead, who wanted her to head up the company’s business and contract publishing subsidiary. West says: “I inherited a team whose morale was quite low. The company had always been an independent company until it was taken over by Trinity Mirror, which is a large corporate. Change is always the catalyst for more change and the launch of Business am also saw us lose some good people here, so my first job was to raise morale and stabilise the business.
“There was a also a big commercial turnaround to be effected and we have achieved that, which I suppose was the main reason that I was beginning to think about moving on in my career. I had come to a point where I, and the team, had done everything I wanted to do with the business and I felt that it was someone else’s turn to take over.”
It could be said that West, in her first managing director’s position, has steered The Insider Group successfully through what has been the company’s most competitive era in its twenty-year history. Business am has come and gone, as have a number of other business magazines, but still Scottish Business Insider goes on.
West says: “We have a maxim here at Insider that says ‘other magazines may come and go, but there will always be an Insider’”, as she proves when one staff member quotes the maxim verbatim when asked.
“Over the last couple of years the market has been flooded with new business publications, but throughout we have always achieved our aim of being the market leading publication. It is interesting that there are fewer business titles as I leave than there were when I joined. Insider has the credibility and it is the first title that decision makers will go to in Scotland. Many have come and thrown a lot of money at business publishing, but none have made it.”
She adds: “The events side of the business has also grown and we are now taking that event management service out and selling it, and also the contract publishing side has grown. When I arrived we were primarily known for financial and business publishing, but over the last few years we have managed to branch out into consumer and lifestyle.”
Already West is getting to know those members of her 80-strong advertising team that she is not already familiar with by getting their photographs sent across so that as soon as she walks in on 24 February she can put a face to a name. A good thing or a bad thing? It remains to be seen.
As soon as Leslie left the Record for “personal reasons” the industry rumour mill began to go into overdrive. However, even as West prepares to take office the rumour mill has changed tack. Suggestions that Hollinshead is now starting to move his most trusted lieutenants into senior management positions in readiness to mount an MBO of the Record and Sunday Mail are doing the rounds.
West laughs: “I haven’t heard that one yet. It is funny; in Scotland as soon as anything happens the rumour mills start. No, I don’t know anything about that.”
As I leave Insider’s offices, West says: “I’ll certainly miss Joan Burnie. It’s great having your own agony aunt in the office.” I offer that surely working only feet from MD Mark Hollinshead can be nothing short of ecstasy, not agony ... only time will tell.