It’s all about the Benjamin
The past few months have been eventful ones for those at the Manchester Evening News. The Guardian Media Group-owned newspaper earlier this year announced intentions to bring forward the printing times of the first evening edition and make it available to commuters in the morning. Therefore the Manchester Evening News becomes the Manchester Morning News. Well, sort of.
The man behind the ambitious plans for the paper is managing director David Benjamin. The paper was launched at the start of November and, with the announcement that in the first month of sales circulation is up by five per cent, he is cautiously optimistic.
\"It really is early days,\" comments Benjamin, when asked if he is happy that the paper is bucking the trends and actually putting on readers in the first month that it branched out into the morning market. He continues: \"It was a tricky business decision to make and we are not going to be complacent about it at all. In fact, I think that we are really going to have to wait for another few months, at least until after Christmas, to really assess how successful we have been with the launch.\"
The idea behind an earlier paper was one of necessity, explains Benjamin, in order to get the paper out as early and as quickly as possible to their existing readership. He comments: \"We had been thinking about the concept for some time but in the past six months or so we were having major problems both with our printers and the distribution in newsagents. These problems in turn affect our readership and we therefore had to look at a way of getting the newspaper out to our readers as quickly and easily as possible.
\"We achieved that in a couple of ways. First of all, we have closed down two of our printers, which in turn reduced costs. But, at the same time, we (GMG) have signed a deal with Trinity Mirror that will see us invest £45 million in new printing equipment. That will mean that there will be an easier way to get the papers out to our readers.
\"We were also aware that there are many issues facing the newsagent industry and, in turn, home delivery. Therefore, by offering a morning newspaper we can get right to the early morning commuters directly.\"
However, Benjamin insists that the paper has not been launched in the morning as a direct competitor to the ever growing and hugely successful free title the Metro. He comments: \"On the contrary. I really like what is being done with the Metro, but our readers are different from the Metro’s. We are not doing this to try to win over thousands of new readers. Instead, we are trying to offer our readers the opportunity to get us when they want us, not having to rely on a variety of circumstances falling into place.\"
With a £250,000 investment being put into a marketing spend at the start of the year, it is clear that Benjamin means business. \"Our advertising agency, Love, will be working on a communications campaign that will consist of both TV and outdoor advertising with 48 sheets being placed throughout the city to support the campaign. The campaign will roll out in the New Year and will, hopefully, have more of an effect on the circulation.\"
While Benjamin might appear cautiously optimistic about the changes, it has not all been smooth sailing. When the plans were announced to introduce the paper to a morning audience, journalists were concerned about working times, with the outcome being that industrial action was diverted at the last minute. Benjamin now, however, insists that everyone is benefiting from the changes. He comments: \"When the plans were announced, there was some concern from our journalists and, yes, there was a threat of industrial action. However, the matter was resolved and we have made sure that our editorial resources are fully staffed – with an additional 12 positions being filled – that sees the staff work either mornings, afternoons or evenings. And they have been very positive to the changes. The five per cent increase in the past month has also been very motivational.\"
So what are the plans for the future – surely the Manchester Evening News being distributed in the morning signals an attempt to corner the morning market? Could we soon be seeing the Manchester Morning News on the newsagent’s shelves in the North West? Benjamin is once again cautious in his response: \"That is not part of our plans at the moment. The early edition is simply part of a bid to make sure that our readers are getting the MEN every single day. We have no plans to launch a new morning newspaper. In the US there is a long history of morning editions of evening newspapers and we are hoping to emulate that success.\"