A new Age Telegraph
The Telegraph answers to its own industry
Times, they are a-changing. And so is The Daily Telegraph it would appear. For example, full page ads in The Drum recently proclaimed it is now the No 1 newspaper website with 18.6m monthly global users.
Four or five years ago the title seemed the epitome of conservatism, both with a small and capital ‘c’.
Its ageing readership seemed to match its old fashioned logo, so much so that many media buyers quipped, that one bad winter could see its percentage circulation fall hit double figures.
But three years ago the Barclay brothers bought the business for over £600m – the most anybody had paid for a newspaper before.
Initially the news was greeted with some scepticism by the market, as the Barclays had been widely blamed for the decline of The Scotsman, which is now under Johnston Group control.
But perhaps the billionaire brothers have learnt from their mistakes. Rather than putting Andrew Neil at the helm, they appointed former Associated Newspapers MD Murdoch Maclennan, one of the UK’s best respected newspaper executives.
He then built a team which has included the likes of commercial director Dave King, who joined from EMAP and Matt Watkins who joined as group ad director.
Armed with ideas, and an additional £400m of the Barclays cash, a transformation of the business has taken place, which according to King sees the company well placed to meet the challenges of a rocky economy, and a readership in the midst of a digital revolution.
“We have certainly been through a lot of changes,” King tells The Drum, “and that process will continue.
“But it is important, particularly in this day an age, that you have a culture which embraces change. Two things have been really driving things here. One is technology. And the other is how that changes the way people consume media.
Content is Queen
“That is why we now believe the consumer is king. But content is queen. We really listen to our consumers – and will never fall into that trap where we start dictating to them.”
As well as King, Matt Watkin and Gary Frelick – who is in charge of the Manchester office – are seated in an impressive board room which, thanks to a glazed wall, gives an impressive view of the Telegraph’s newsroom one floor below.
It is this view the sales team are keen to show to potential clients. Because, it is a powerful demonstration of how far this organisation come.
The largest open plan office in the UK, it features a ‘hub and spoke’ layout. The hub is a circular table, and the spokes are the various editorial departments – including business, sport and online – which are arranged around it.
Every hour the heads of each department, gather with the editor at the hub, to discuss each story that is emerging. A decision is then made how best to use that story. Should it go online first? Should it be the subject of a Telegraph TV report, or simply used in the paper.
Arranged on one wall is a vast projection of all the Telegraph websites, together with live information telling the journalists what news stories the consumers are actually viewing.
At the opposite side is a television studio and broadcast suites. It is far cry from the days when the Telegraph was based over five floors at Canary Wharf.
“This,” says King, pointing to the wall which features information on what stories are being currently viewed by readers, “is what I mean by listening to the consumer.
“But the other thing which has triggered change is a developing business model. What we found is that as our circulation, and our advertising sales came under pressure, we had to find new ways of generating revenue.
“The good news is that we have a fantastic brand. It is a brand people can trust and a brand people are very loyal to. As a result we have people who will buy our holidays, our insurance and products as well as the newspaper.
“These people want to be part of The Telegraph. They live the brand.”
In his previous incarnation as managing director of EMAP Advertising, King was perhaps best known for his strategy that saw the company adopt an integrated sales strategy. Rather than sell specific magazines, or radio stations, King was about selling audiences.
The jury is still out on whether, selling radio stations alongside magazines, actually worked in practice, but nevertheless it is this expertise which meant he was an attractive recruit for the new Telegraph team.
“Our vision has changed,” says King, “It has changed from being The Daily Telegraph to the Telegraph Media Group. They are only three words. But they encapsulate huge change; from simply being a newspaper to being a multi-media group.
“That is our vision. From there we had to agree a strategy in order to deliver that. A lot of companies may have a mission statement. They may have a plan. But then they simply put it in a drawer and forget about it, or hang it in reception and walk past it every day.
“Until you live your vision, live your strategy, you don’t actually have one.
“We wanted to take The Telegraph on to all the different platforms which are available to us – including online, TV, podcasts and vodcasts.
“But this place. This hub and spoke is a physical manifestation of our strategy.
“As a consequence the world has looked at The Telegraph and has seen this transformation and we have shifted up in terms of their perception to being a progressive company, a pioneer.”
However, the old fashioned newspaper product is not being neglected on the investment front. The group has recently signed a deal which will see their newspaper move to the state-of-the art News International presses – a development which will allow it to offer full colour throughout the paper.
King is also reoraganising the commercial department. So successful has the hub and spoke been from an editorial perspective that King is now keen to introduce it on the commercial floor too.
“We have now organised the commercial team in a similar way,” says King, “We now have hubs for the likes of WPP, Omnicom, Aegis and Publicis. That means our teams include newspaper, magazine, online and creative people sitting together and learning each other’s disciplines.
“Of course often people buy these specific areas separately. But what we can now say is ‘look, why don’t you buy them together and two times two might equal five.
“Increasingly we are being given more cross-media briefs for over £250k – sometimes as much as £1m – where we are asked to put together a multi-media solution.”
Do you think this interview is a bit soft? Well at this juncture we decided to open things up a bit.
Prior to making the trip to London, we asked major players in the market to pose a few questions of their own to King and his team.
Sandra Tinker of News International and Louise Green of MediaVest both asked:
Will The Telegraph now go compact – especially now it is sharing The Times’ presses?
“No,” says King, “certainly not in the foreseeable future. We have a lovely point of difference at the moment. And I also think the broadsheet format stands for quality. The advertisers like it. Their ads look great.”
Alun Lucas of MediaEdge CIA asked:
Will the move to full colour throughout, reduce the colour advertising rates?
“I hope not,” says King, “We will put colour into the newspaper as and when it is needed. But the benefit to the client is they can have colour as and when it is needed. But at the end of the day if we are going to invest in colour, we need our advertisers and supporters to invest in us.”
Lucas also wanted to know if King ever envisaged any national newpaper moving towards a free/paid hybrid model.
“I can’t see us doing that,” he says, “But at the tabloid end of the market it is more of a possibility. What is The Sun charging at the moment for example, at some stages it is as little as 15p.
“But we have a quality product. People are prepared to pay for it. And to put it another way, what else can you get for 80p?”
Dave Braddock of MediaEdge asked:
Are these cross media deals really happening?
Says King, “We are doing loads of cross-media deals. Tell Dave to come down here. We will show him a dozen case-histories tomorrow. I would say between 10 and 12 percent of our business is now coming through this type of deal.”
The Brilliant Digital Team asked:
How will The Telegraph balance its increased online traffic volume, with the needs of online buyers to target niche audiences?
Says King, “What we aim to deliver is critical mass, without diluting the quality of that audience. We are not a Google for example. And of course across our businesses there are audience packages you can buy.”
Charles Reid MediaVest wanted to know:
Whether or not as a result of the increased online investment the Telegraph Media Group expects to become media neutral?
Says King, “I still see the newspaper as being the mother ship for everything else. I suppose some people might see the issues being like the ones which affected the likes of Smash Hits. It used to be a magazine. But then it became a TV station, and a radio station and now these things still exist but the magazine has ceased.
“But that is a difficult analogy, because kids are so different. I think the paper will be around for a long time. But that sort of question is intriguing, for I am not sure anybody really knows the answer.”
MediaVest’s Charlie Varley wanted to know:
In view of the move to The Times presses – how can The Telegraph ever be sure of ever running a scoop again?
“We will be alright, Charlie,” says King. “But that is a bloody good question. But the news model has really changed anyway. For example, if we have a really great scoop the chances are we will break it online a 9.45pm so it catches the Ten O’Clock News, which in turn will help promote the next day’s paper.”
Kerry King at MediaVest asked:
Given, Will Lewis – as editor in chief – and his journalists now work across the daily and Sunday papers, what is the likelihood of The Telegraph becoming a seven day operation? After all the Sunday Telegraph’s sale is 28 percent behind the daily title.
Says King, “We like the brands we have got – and they work in their own right. The Sunday paper is in a completely different market. For example it is up against The Sunday Times every week which is tough.
“But at the moment there are no plans to move to a situation where everything looks the same across seven days.”
No change there, then. But there is also no doubt that more change is on the agenda. One thing that has focussed the mind of many publishers is the prediction by the US academic Philip Meyer, in his book the Vanishing Newspaper, that the last newspaper will be delivered in 2043. King looks shocked at the assessment.
“I would certainly not quote a specific year for the end of newspapers – I think it is amazing he attempted to do that.
“My view is that newspapers will be around a long time. The reason? It’s a cultural thing. They are part of our culture. We take them to bed with us, we take them to the toilet. We are really intimate with these things.
“Even going online does not stop people buying newspapers. They want their information in different ways. When you receive it online or on a mobile you want it in a shorter format. But a newspaper still gives you that indepth analysis.
“But, if my boy asked me should he get into this business, I would say yes. Because there is still a lot going on and it can still give you a great life.”