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News International: The logic of appointing WPP

By Joe Fernandes

February 10, 2012 | 5 min read

News International’s moves to consolidate all its advertising and media buying into WPP under a ‘Team News’ operation signals a strategic shift aimed at restoring trust in the troubled publisher.

After a torrid end to 2011, Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspaper business has not escaped the limelight that shone upon it as a result of the phone hacking saga. Repeated Parliamentary committee hearings, fresh police arrests and the ongoing Leveson hearings continue to blacken the name of these newspaper titles, prompting fresh advertising bursts seeking to remind the public why the papers deserve their attention.

As I write this, ads for The Sun are airing promising the freshest news on the next England boss, as well as the usual mix of celebrity, politics and glamour. Yet, as one employee shouted out when former CEO Rebekah Brooks announced the closure of the News of the World last summer: “Can't you see the bigger picture? You're making the whole of News International toxic.”

In recent months, it seems that News International has seen this bigger picture. Following the demise of Britain’s leading Sunday newspaper, the company underwent a “transformational change programme… to take on the unique challenges of the modern media world.”

The aim of this transformation is to become “a multi-platform media company…to be smarter, more efficient and more profitable amidst competition and constant change.” Understandably, new advertising partners seem to be at the heart of this with Engine’s WCRS & Co losing The Sun’s advertising business – and as a result, missing out on being the agency behind the introduction of the hotly anticipated Sun on Sunday. Social media agencies Jam and VCCP also lose out.

Instead, WPP has been instructed to put together Team News, a multi-disciplinary unit bringing together the best talent from across its agencies. Where the main agencies CHI & Partners, Grey London and Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R are tipped to be leading the bidding, it would be remiss to not expect joint bids with the likes of Saint, Syzygy, VML London and Wunderman.

Team News would be expected to work along the lines of Ford’s Blue Hive and Vodafone’s Team Vodafone – joint WPP ventures created to increase co-ordination and synergies amongst agencies and to ensure 'best practice' client partnerships and delivery.

News International is desperately in need of this. As Brooks said as she exited the company: “Today we are leading the news agenda for completely the wrong reasons, rather than setting the news agenda for the right reasons.”

For Murdoch, the choice of partner seems commonsense; WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell famously bemoaned the loss of the nation’s leading Sunday paper, saying it meant the Sunday newspaper market has worsened.

He added: "I'd like to see a Sun on Sunday come in but they will have to wait. Without News of the World the market doesn't have enough competition, enough alternatives, we miss that. That is what my people tell me."

Critics pointed out at the time that WPP's media agencies control as much as 35% of the UK press advertising market, and so an endorsement from Sorrell for The Sun on Sunday would benefit News International.

News International’s chief marketing officer Katie Vanneck-Smith’s admission that despite not having a finalised a brief yet, it is “looking at a closed pitch within WPP group", reveals just how determined the publisher is to restoring its trust with Britons and advertisers.

As News International Commercial managing director Paul Hayes admits: “News International Commercial enters 2012 with a new industry-leading team dedicated to creating profitable and enduring relationships between advertisers and readers."

Already its media agency of record, WPP’s Mindshare, has commenced a range of Global Radio sponsorship campaigns, interactive promotions and special features running across most of Global’s on-air and digital brands in a bid “to communicate a range of marketing and content messages on a daily basis.”

Such efforts are a great first step for the newspapers as they seek to regain the trust of readers in the face of mounting criticism from celebrities and agents appearing on current affairs broadcasts and in front of the Levenson Inquiry. To date, it has settled 21 cases involving 58 individuals to avoid civil trials.

However, only this week a group of 50 public figures started claims over hacking at News of the World and reports have claimed that contacts were paid under £1,000 for individual stories by reporters at the newspapers under investigation, including the News of the World.

New CEO Tom Mockridge has pledged that the company is “confronting past mistakes and is making fundamental changes about how we operate which are essential for our business… we are determined that News International will emerge a stronger and more trusted organisation.”

WPP’s winning agencies will have a mammoth task on their hands to ensure this objective comes true. Like Vodafone and Ford before it, Team News must offer News International a full service, integrated offering, created to respond to the rapidly changing consumer and media landscapes and ready to reappraise relationships if it is to succeed. All will be in no doubt that the future of Sunday tabloids and daily newspapers rests on this urgent reappraisal.

Global Radio Mindshare The Sun

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