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Teens run the newsroom as The Daily Mirror returns to its campaigning roots


By John McCarthy, Opinion editor

May 22, 2019 | 7 min read

The Daily Mirror has invited teens into its newsroom in an editorial play that has also piqued the interests of advertisers. Alison Phillips, editor of The Daily Mirror, discussed the campaign and her newfound working relationship with the Reach marketing team under chief marketing officer and WPP alumnus Jo Bacon.

Daily Mirror NextGen campaign

The Daily Mirror returns to campaigning roots

Mirror NextGen saw 20 inquisitive youths take editorial control of the Mirror newspaper, social and website for a day (22 May). This includes 16-year-old Labour activist Amelia McDowell who delivered an “eloquent” verdict on the “huge generational” effects of Brexit on Question Time recently.

Auto brand Seat backed the editorial “experiment” to “put what British teenagers care about at the heart of the national conversation”. The campaign “fits within our heritage as part of our editorial campaigns which were all forward-facing, innovation, change and making things better," Phillips said.

Every aspect of the newspaper's design has been opened to the teens; from the masthead design to the editorial lead column.

The youthful influx of staff will touch upon topics including Brexit, climate change, Korean boybands and Love Island. Interviews with Jeremy Corbyn, Love Island's Megan Barton-Hanson, education minister Damian Hinds and Prince William also feature in the issue.

Editor Phillips launched the campaign, inspired by upstanding teens like Greta Thurnberg’s climate work or campaigns from the Parkland teens who have tirelessly pushed for greater gun control measures in the US.

“This whole generation of people are being dismissed as ‘snowflakes’," continued Phillips.

"The Mirror has always given a voice to people who might not otherwise have one, young people need a voice right now. To change the world, they need a footprint in the national conversation.”

Marketing the campaign

It’s the first campaign delivered by the editorial with help from the marketing side under new marketing boss Jo Bacon.

Phillips said: “We told Jo and got a really positive response. They felt that this was a great scheme to go and shout about which was really encouraging for the editorial team. We that feel our work is valued. It is something we can market ourselves on and give real value to readers.

"There was a radio silence in marketing recently… we’ve not really run a campaign in this way before.”

The last marketing push from the title was in 2013 as it positioned as the ‘intelligent tabloid’ in 2013’. Even then, that was the first big campaign for almost a decade.

Recently, its editorial campaigns, like changing organ donation law, tackling NHS car parking fees, investigating homelessness and challenging the universal credit schemes, resonate with readers (some of whom still correspond with editors with letters).

Phillips outlined that these campaigns did not have any marketing spend behind them, but this latest campaign indicates a potentially closer relationship between editorial and marketing.

In the days of media antiquity, this wasn't a concern when the title was pushing for lifeboat legislation after the Titanic went down, but times have changed.

“Usually the big ideas came from the [marketing team] and we just made them work. But this time we felt very strongly about [NextGen] and they made it work for us," she said.

The title still enjoys a daily print circulation of more than half a million. SimilarWeb data suggests that online, monthly unique visits were down 2.5% in the UK and 11.2% globally year-on-year in the first quarter. Average visit duration “remained relatively stable” in the UK and rose 14.2% increase globally – suggesting more engaged audiences. Furthermore, the Mirror saw direct visits increase by more than 6%, “indicative of heightened brand awareness”.

Echoing this, the tabloid needs to differentiate itself on the newsstand and have its distinct personality shine through on digital channels. As the former editor of the short-lived New Day, Phillips can attest to that.

On the campaign, Phillips said: “I would never do something like this for primarily commercial reasons but I was surprised that there was lots of advertiser appetite. It's clearly something big brands want to be associated with.

“We have a unique selling point fighting for social justice.” It’s Phillips belief that few titles can talk to the British public from a left-leaning perspective. But it is having to adapt to deliver this.

“The world is changing really quickly, if we're going to remain relevant and be relevant, we have to change quickly too.”

Next Gen

Distinct Brands

Over the course of 2018, Reach beat analyst expectations after its revenues surged 16.2% to £723.9m. This masked a like-for-like fall of 6.6% when the income of the newly acquired Express and Star stable acquisition was stripped out.

Going forward, the titles can pool their resources to cut costs, putting some jobs at risk.

But Phillips warned that each brand has to remain distinct.

“We're all part of Reach but it's never been more important for The Mirror to be the Mirror and the Express to be the Express.

"The worst thing that could happen for Reach, both in terms of revenue and relevance, is that we became one big gray mush of stuff."

She concluded: "The more work we do like this that say ‘We are the Mirror,’ this is what we do, the better We're not like any other news brand.”

Following on from the NextGen campaign, through which it will hope to retain more younger, loyal readers, it is also looking to ease the route into the company for its trainees and has rolled out a ‘refresh of the trainee scheme’. This includes taking blind applications to actively recruiting talented people who may not have attended university.

This is all part of the title’s efforts to build an audience or campaigning community, something it believes it is better placed to do than the social networks.

Andrew Tenzer, director of group insight for Reach, wrote for The Drum in April about the pitfalls of community-building on social media, it was in this piece he argued the role of local titles like those in Reach’s stable.

He said: “Much like TV advertising works through costly signalling, newsbrands taps into the ‘community signal’. Unlike the algorithms of social media which often result in unknown bias, people accept and expect newsbrands to have a point of view – making them real and concrete.”

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