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By The Drum | Administrator

July 14, 2005 | 7 min read

Moving house is never easy at the best of times when you’re trying to also cope with a pressurised job, but add a couple of small boys to the mix and you’ve got a potential headache. Ian Clarke, Newsquest’s new commercial director, obviously likes a challenge as he’s about to do just that when I meet him. “I have to go down tonight and help my wife with the boys,” he says, to explain the short window of interview time. “We move tomorrow and they just can’t get their head around why all their toys and belongings are packed and all there is in their rooms is their beds.”

Belfast-born Clarke is about to move to Helensburgh after four years in County Durham, where he was commercial director for Newsquest’s North East division. Clarke’s spent the last five months commuting on a weekly basis from the North East to Glasgow since he took over the position of commercial director in January, filling the void left by his predecessor, Stephen Tait, who left last year to go to Australia.

Clarke is more than happy to end the commute, if only so he can spend more time at work. “It [commuting] wasn’t the worst thing in the world,” he says. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m not a commuter. If I take on a job, I’ll give that 100 per cent, I don’t want to be doing a job and not have my family with me. I’m completely committing myself to Glasgow, and to the Herald and the Times. I intend to be here for a long time.”

Since Newsquest’s arrival in Glasgow, all three titles have remained in robust health, something Clarke is appreciative of. “There isn’t a publishing centre anywhere in the UK that publishes a portfolio of three titles as strong and as impressive as The Herald, Evening Times and Sunday Herald,” he says. “That was one of the core reasons why I was happy to move to Scotland. It is a healthy situation. This is a different challenge from what I might have got elsewhere. What we’ve got here is a very successful company, popular and with very good people. This is not a situation where Tim [Blott, Newsquest’s managing director] or I have had to walk into a company and turn it around. This company doesn’t need turned round. It has got very good people. What we want to do now is get the best out of those people and find ways to give those people the opportunity to develop careers. Whatever challenges that confront us, we have got the people to take those challenges head on.”

Clarke’s charming, but frank, manner can be disarming however. He’s reluctant to be drawn into a discussion about the burgeoning free paper market, especially his own company’s launch, the West End Mail. “There’s not a lot I can say on that as I’m not directly involved on a day-to-day basis,” he says. “It will fit very logically into the portfolio.”

Mention Trinity Mirror’s plans to introduce 10,000 commuter editions of The Glaswegian on a Thursday, however and he becomes diplomatic. “I can’t see it impacting on the Evening Times,” he says, choosing his words carefully. “The Evening Times is a strong newspaper. I don’t believe any regional newspaper that I’ve come across understands its market and serves its market as well as the Evening Times does in Glasgow. Given the strength of the Evening Times - it would be foolish and naive to think that if at some stage in the future anyone was to come and challenge the Evening Times’ market share, we would just sit back and allow that to happen. We’ve got a strong product in the Evening Times and we’re confident in it.”

Clarke brings a wealth of newspaper experience to Newsquest’s most recent acquisition. Following his completion of a politics degree at Belfast’s Queen’s University, he joined the Belfast Telegraph as a sales rep for the then Thomson Regional Newspapers-owned paper. “The department that I worked in at the time was quite a breeding ground for people,” he says. “Kevin Beatty [chief executive of Daily Mail General Trust] was actually sales manager at the time. There are a number of people who’ve gone and spread themselves around the industry.”

He joined The Express & Star in Wolverhampton as circulation director in 1998; a move he feels focused his career. “There’s no discipline like newspaper sales for giving you a clear understanding of what every other department in the company does,” he says. “There is a danger that it’s [perceived as] just another sales job and you don’t actually develop and become a newspaper person. I think it is absolutely key in our industry that we have people who we can develop into newspaper people, who understand newspapers and who believe in newspapers and who’ve got the experience to put their belief into practice. That was a bit of a turning point for me having spent ten years in advertising at that stage. It was a great newspaper, it was a great company; it was the biggest newspaper in the country at the time.”

There are marked differences between his time at The Express & Star, owned by the Claverly family, and his new bosses at Newsquest. “You have to be culturally flexible [to work with a family firm],” he says. “I am. The one thing I felt when I joined Express & Star was, this is a good family, it’s a good company, and they’re very committed to this publication, unlike a lot of other companies. There was a very traditional approach, which they need for the newspapers to serve the readers. It was a great grounding all round. There are certain things that you would take for granted within a group, which will not happen within a family firm. Having said that, there are certain benefits of working for a family firm that you would not find working within a group. I think the fact that when you’re working for a family firm, if you want something done, the owner is there. We’re quite lucky with Newsquest because it is a pretty devolved group. When you want decisions to be taken you can actually get the decisions taken. The devolved nature of Newsquest really gives you the best of both worlds.”

Clarke’s decision to move to another Newsquest office was out of a desire to help grow the business. “Newsquest over the years is a business that has grown, partly through acquisition, but also grown through organic growth within the areas that it’s served,” he says. “I think the Glasgow purchase will obviously be a flagship publishing centre and very much a flagship series of titles. I’ve been lucky enough in most of my career, I’ve been able to work for people that I’ve wanted to work with, I’ve never been forced to take a job that I didn’t want to take. So when I joined Newsquest there were a number of different factors. I felt I was going to join a major player, a player with a potential for real growth. My key task now is to get to know this market, get to know the players in this market and get to know the people here.”

Although he’s inheriting a healthy department, he’s not taking his task lightly. “Don’t get me wrong, the marketplace is a competitive marketplace,” he says. “What we don’t have is complacency.”

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