Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Sun on Sunday faces a big battle for readers

I note my learned colleague’s blog from yesterday and his cautious optimism for the Sun on Sunday’s success, but I think it is worth taking a rather more sceptical view. Veteran Fleet Street watchers, like Roy Greenslade, have declared that Rupert Murdoch has pulled a rabbit out of the hat, simultaneously getting Sun journalists back on board after talk of mutiny in the ranks and reinforcing his commitment to UK newspapers.

I’m not so sure. It could equally argued that this is a short-term fix designed to appease the Sun mutineers rather than a real commitment. However, I can see the business logic in narrow UK terms, in that the new paper has the potential to do ‘massive numbers’ (as media planners are quick to tell us) and Murdoch needs a big selling ‘Sunday’ to bankroll his other loss-making UK newspapers.

But, and this is the crux, strong interest from advertisers does not always turn into strong sales and readership. Despite lots of positive vibes coming from media planners and News International, I still think it is going to be an uphill battle to get the British public to go out and buy in big numbers.

Firstly, it is going to be very difficult to get back all of the NOTW’s 2.6 million readers in an overall market for Sunday newspaper reading which is in decline. In August 1991 national Sunday newspapers collectively sold an average of 16.2 million copies. By August 2001 this number had reduced to 13.6 million. By August of last year it had fallen it had fallen off a cliff to a mere 8.3 million.

What’s more, circulation figures from last year suggest that, as my learned colleague notes, that more than a million NOTW buyers appear to have vanished into thin air. They did not switch allegiance to the Sunday Mirror or The People or The Mail - they just left the market entirely.

Secondly, reaction from competitors is likely to be brutal in terms of price-cutting and other incentives, as those titles which benefited from the closure of the NOTW attempt to hang onto their gains. News International will launch with huge promotional activity, but all of this eats into profits and cannot be sustained over the long-term.

Finally, there is one other issue which is going to make life difficult for this successor to the ‘Screws’. The NOTW made its name exposing the antics of the rich and famous, but we now live in an era of super-injunctions which can stop an invasion of privacy in its tracks. What’s more, the newspaper industry is fully aware that the Leveson Inquiry is on-going and is on its best behaviour. It will take a very brave editor indeed to splash a typical NOTW scandal story, of the type that made its predecessors name, in the opening weeks of this new venture.

News International will be very gung-ho about this weekend’s circulation figures regardless of what happens, but the real proof will come in March, April and May as the market begins to settle down again. I’m no media buyer, but I suspect with a print run of three million, News International will be hoping for an opening weekend north of NOTW’s final circulation figure of 2.6 million. That is an awfully tall order to sustain once the initial excitement wears off.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Just how will The Sun set this Sunday?

So, the empire strikes back! Just when his back was against the wall, the old devil finds his elixir and comes out all guns blazing. What chutzpah! 

Yes, for those of you that haven’t heard, there is a ‘new’ Sunday tabloid in town (although how ‘new’ is probably up for debate). Media oligarch Murdoch has given an octogenarian’s last throw of the dice in what’s been a turbulent 12 months and announced the Sun’s highly anticipated Sabbath day edition. News Corps’ Sunday saviour will be hot off the press this weekend.

It might be worth comparing at this point, Murdoch’s bullish announcement that the Sunday Sun was on its way with that doddery appearance before the select committee last July. But alas, this is just an aside and I shan’t begin to assess Murdoch’s flourishing acting career. The real issue at hand is will the Sun on Sunday be the rip-roaring success it is being hyped up to be?

Inspecting the numbers, probably yes. It would appear that the News of the World's demise weakened the market overall. Of the News of the World's 2.67m sales, 1.3m simply disappeared. Half the rest went to the Sunday Mirror; the rest were split between the Daily Star Sunday and the People. Initial gains by the Mail on Sunday were rubbed out, although the Sunday Express made a little progress. Clearly media tycoon Murdoch has seen an opportunity to regain market leadership.

On the other hand however, and I could be wrong here, I’d imagine that a lot of the NOTW’s readers also turned more predominantly to online – real-time gossip from the glittering twitterati perhaps? It’s not just an online liberal coffeehouse you know! Similarly, the MailOnline hasn’t been doing too badly either.

Still, based on the numbers, the Sun’s promotional power and Murdoch’s resilient, death defying nature, I’d expect the Sun on Sunday to do rather well. There are more long-term issues at hand of course, like the growing revenue threat of social media and online news, and also the very necessary decontamination of News Corps’ brands.

As a PR person, I welcome the news of a Sun on Sunday and hopefully a revived Sunday newspaper market, but how long will it last in this form? When will social news become a genuine threat to traditional media’s revenue stream? I might be inclined to argue that it already is. As far as I can see, Twitter may not have pointless helpings of page three nudity, but this can be sourced elsewhere on the net, as Charlie Broker remarked last week, “on pages three to three billion and three.” 

This all leaves me thinking; in the long-term, will the Sun on Sunday not just be a bit outdated?

Monday, 20 February 2012

A triumph for social media (in Glasgow!)

For those who didn't get around to reading the Guardian's excellent article on Saturday about the phenomenal job done by the blog '', I would urge you to make time to give it a read.

Even if you are not a football supporter, there is much to ponder on from the perspective of the performance of traditional media sources and in terms of the impact of social media.

It is a story with multiple themes; alienation of the traditional football fan; a perceived failure on the part of traditional media and the use of social media as a catalyst for the sharing of vital information amongst stakeholders.

For those who don't have the time let me summarise the story for you here. An anonymous football supporter, ironically not a Rangers supporter, got wind of the tax trouble that Glasgow Rangers was in, but could find no mention of it amongst traditional media outlets.

Instead, traditional media fed its readers, namely the club’s supporters, the usual stories including the building of a super casino and transfer gossip, including, apparently, a 'link' to the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo. The result was that many Rangers supporters had little clue that their club owed £70 million to HMRC until last week when it went bust.

In frustration, our anonymous hero set up a blog, '', and started digging deeper. The blog has ‘broken’ a whole host of stories in relation to the case and now has a daily traffic of over 100,000 views with reader comments coming in at a rate of about 1,500 per day. Bear in mind that these people are not discussing football, they are discussing accounting conventions and insolvency law!

How did this happen? Our hero blames an unholy triangle of trade in which traditional media sources have got too close to the club and felt unable to cover the story for risk of losing their ‘access’.

For the record, I am fully aware of the role that PR has probably played in all of this. PR people at Rangers, let’s assume they were in the know, have been feeding these stories to traditional media outlets, in the guise of ‘doing their job’.

So what can we learn from all of this? Media owners from Rupert Murdoch down have blamed the internet for their woes, but this case begs the question whether certain sections of traditional media are giving readers the information they need and perhaps explains why so many are turning to alternative sources of information.

It must also be remembered that not all traditional media is scared of questioning itself. After all, I read this story in The Guardian. Kudos to them for running it!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Dave is throwing himself to the Lion!

The Prime Minister just got slapped down on the BBC.

It’s something I suspect we are going to have to get used to over the coming years.

Gordon Brown made a lot of mistakes, but he also got a lot right, bailing out the banks in October 2008 and not allowing Blair to join the Euro immediately spring to mind, but there is also another trap which he had the wiles never to fall into. He never, ever went up to Scotland and publicly took on Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, toe to toe!

The current Prime Minister is a confident man and the Number 10 Press Office has obviously felt able to trail his speech in Edinburgh today on the future of the United Kingdom and the Scottish Referendum on Independence with plenty of leaked soundbites.

He will say we are “stronger and richer together”. He will go on: “I think we have a fairer country, a better country, a richer country with all of us together. But I wouldn't ever threaten people in Scotland or say they can't do what they want to do. I'll just be appealing as someone who loves the United Kingdom, who loves our shared home."

All very nice, but then he makes a huge mistake that Salmond has already leapt on. "We’re stronger, because together we count for more in the world, with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, real clout in NATO and Europe and unique influence with allies all over the world."

Oh dear, oh dear. This is Salmond’s response, the words of a consumate politician who understands his electorate and their concerns. Read on or watch it HERE. I warn you from abourt 46 seconds in it is men against boys stuff!

“I was arguing about progressive policies, to bring jobs to the people and prosperity, he’s talking about being on the Security Council of the United Nations. Now no doubt that is important but believe me that doesn’t mean much to someone with disability or someone fearing the loss of benefits; a young person looking for a job in Scotland. I think the Prime Minister had better understand that Scottish politics is about a positive vision for the future; it’s about people not prestige.”

One nil to Salmond. At this rate it will all be over by half time.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Trend Setting

Until I attended Interiors UK last month at the NEC, I never really gave a lot of thought to who decides what trends will be trends and the importance of colour. I thought each magazine simple took inspiration from collection previews developed by interior design and homeware manufacturers and deciding what they liked best. And when it comes to deciding what colour is ‘in’ this season, I never knew so much discussion and analytics actually take place.

Twice a year, Global Colour Research brings together professionals from all design disciplines and from across the world to discuss what they have been inspired by and to agree a consensus on what common themes were emerging. It seems that ‘choosing a favourite colour’ is actually quite hard work.

According to Global Colour Research, colour is our way of communicating with and understanding the world and different colours have different representations and interpretations. Global Colour Research predict the key trends in colour for the year ahead, creating a colour palette for each trend and advising how to adopt this trend in design. At Interiors UK 2012 identified four distinct colour trends for 2012 / 2013 – Shanty, Ember, Tender and Bleep.

In a nutshell, here’s a guide to the colour concepts that will be shaping interior design this year and next:

SHANTY: Inspired by maritime, Shanty takes its cues from water with dramatic tones of red and indigo through to softy shades of algae and other sun-bleached colours. Think nautical stripes, rough finishes, driftwood, sea-worn glass and stone washed textures. Different washes of denim in particular are identified as a cross-industry trend right now so expect to see more of this within interiors.

EMBER: Influenced by the power of nature, the colours for this trend have been drawn from natural disasters and from the destruction and erosion of materials. There’s an autumnal feel to the colour palette – included tones such as Woodpile, Harvest Green, Carbon, Squash, Ash and a very powerful Red. Ember places emphasis on heavy, saturated colours and when it comes to interiors, Ember is about distressed finishes, raw luxury, after effects, melting materials to create a new effect, tarnished surfaces, scorched wood, lacquered coatings and charred metallics.

TENDER: Inspired by antique and vintage finishes and the Georgian period in particular, Tender’s colour palette includes a range of heritage colours such as mustard, pale green, blush pink and powder blue. Tender is all about handcrafted, beautiful details and draws upon the idea of faded beauty of finishes and materials, and has a very genteel, delicate style to it. Hand-rendered, craftsmanship and ornate details epitomise this look and it will be reflected in gathered silks, engraved jewels and mother of pearl.

BLEEP: The most playful trend of the four, Bleep is inspired by a love for retro technology and bright pop colours. Red alert, pulse yellow, blueprint grey, dark blue, white and mint green all make this a trend for those wanting to make an impact. Using a synthetic spectrum, Bleep encourages people to use the colours to direct people of draw attention to certain elements of design. Think layering colours, tinted acrylic, frosted glass, holograms and kaleidoscopes.

Four very different interior design trends, with a different appeal, but which one will take on in real people’s homes is the question.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Capello: The Media Pack has got what it wants!

The Capo has gone. His critics in the media have got what they've wanted all along. I woke up this morning to Dan Roan on the BBC telling me that his tenure as England manager will be judged a failure. Arch critic Henry Winter in the Telegraph can barely contain his excitement.

Various reasons are put forward for what, in the eyes of many in the football media pack, should be a moment of national rejoicing. His grasp of English wasn’t good enough (presumably to give them better quotes); he was always on holiday!

Facts are not allowed to get in the way of a good story. Only this week Sir Alex Ferguson came out and said he would never allow such interference in the dressing room as the FA has perpetrated in the last week. The fact that Capello’s win percentage is better than any other England manager, including Sir Alf Ramsey, is glossed over. Presumably too inconvenient to merit valuable column inches .

His resignation caps a fabulous afternoon and early evening for ‘the pack’. Yesterday, Harry Redknapp (“our ‘Arry”) was cleared of tax evasion charges leaving him free to take charge of “the biggest job in football”. The fact that he is a self-confessed semi-illiterate who has never sent an email is irrelevant. He played at West Ham with the Heroes of ’66, Bobby, Geoff and Martin, don’t you know!

Unfortunately, ‘the pack’ is even worse at picking the next England manager than the FA. Only 18 months ago Liverpool fans were being told that we were lucky to have Roy Hodgson and that we would have to hand him back to the nation when the England job next became vacant. Multiple internet statto nerds pointed out Hodgson’s shocking away game record at every club he’s ever managed but their cries went unheard until the Kop, with its team only just outside the relegation zone, started ironically chanting “Hodgson for England.”

My advice to Harry Redknapp is don’t go near the job with a barge pole. The ‘pack’ is fickle and it will turn on you when things go badly, and things will go badly. As I sat in front of the TV last night marvelling at another England football crisis I recalled the words of one of Don Revie’s assistants at Leeds United when Revie was considering taking the England job in the mid-1970s. “They [the England players] are not as good and not as dedicated as what you have here.”

There are multiple problems with English football from the way it is administered through to individual players. Unfortunately, the events of yesterday allow us to gloss over the problems once more.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The genius of McCain's bus stop adverts

A few months ago I blogged about the rise of scent marketing, which involves pumping artificial smells into shops to entice customers in. And without wanting to come across as a crazy ‘smelling’ man, I sniffed out another great scent story this week – McCain’s new bus shelter ads, which give off heat and release the aroma of freshly baked potatoes.

I said before it wouldn’t be long before the trend moved out of retail locations and McCain got there first. But that’s not the only clever part of this campaign. Putting aside the initial (frankly genius) idea to apply scent marketing to outdoor ads, this is another great example of how to turn an innovative advertising campaign into a great PR story. You only have to google “McCain bus stop” to see the reach already and I’m expecting this one to grow and grow. Hats off to all involved.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Is the UK really anti-business?

The backlash against the backlash has truly begun. Fred, formerly Sir Fred, mustn’t be able to believe his luck as the great and good pile in to tell us all that it is terribly unfair. Even Alistair Darling who savaged him in his memoirs has come out for Sir Fred!

Most worrying though is the concern of a number of industry leaders who have voiced the opinion that the ‘stripping’ of Fred (apologies for that little mental image) could be perceived as anti-business. I think there are a number of points to make on this one.

Firstly, this story and the anti-business claims need to be seen in their party political context. The Government was bounced into this following Stephen Hester’s bonus fiasco. It needed a sacrificial lamb to give the voters some raw meat and try and claw back the initiative from Ed Miliband who is gaining some traction with the ‘fairness’ line of attack. Fred was the lamb and the anti-business claims are a natural follow-on to try and discredit the Opposition’s motives and convince voters that Labour is vacating the centre ground of politics.

Secondly, the City of London is not UK business. It is a part of UK business (admittedly quite a large part) but there are other parts of the economy beyond financial services. The national media’s almost exclusive obsession with the City and publicly quoted companies obscures the fact that there is business beyond the Square Mile.

Finally, the most vociferous voices I have heard on the subject of bank lending and bonuses have come from business, particularly SMEs who continue to struggle with raising bank finance.

So despite what you may read, the answer to the question is ‘no’ the UK is not anti-business, but if the great and the good continue with this line of attack it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The construction industry forecast at a glance

If like me a juicy stat gets you all wide eyed and interested, then you’ll understand how I felt yesterday when the latest construction industry forecast landed on my desk.

Whilst I’m a stickler for good bit of technical detail, I do believe that sometimes it’s just not necessary and this is definitely one of those occasions. I could probably rewrite the entire forecast into a quarter of its current pages and you’d still walk away well informed and a bit depressed at the state of the economy, so hell, let’s go one step further and list it in bullet points!
Here are the bits that I found most interesting. Be warned, it doesn’t make for pleasant

· Six months ago the UK economy was forecast to increase by 2.5%, but this was revised down to just 0.7% in time for us to see in the New Year – apparently that’s still optimistic

· Unemployment is set to rise by another 2.8million this year which is pretty scary considering household disposable income has fallen for five consecutive quarters already

· The construction industry is set to fall by 5.2% this year and will remain flat throughout 2013. It’s not all bad news though, it’s forecast to grow by 3.8% in 2014 followed by 4.6% in 2015. This will most likely be the start of a healthy year on year increase because 2015 is the year in which 85% of the £4.7 billion pound construction industry ‘boost’ promised by the Coalition Government will become available

· Commercial construction has been propped up by the Olympic development in central London but we’ll see a 5% fall when that ends this year. This sector will also be hit by the administration of Battersea Power Station which will wipe out the planned £4.5 billion regeneration

· Construction in the education sector is likely to fall by 35% before 2014 despite a £1.2 billion investment this year. Half of which will be spent on building 100 free schools

· The construction of healthcare facilities will fall by 40% before 2014

· Private housing construction will increase by 2% in 2012 and a boost of 29% is forecast for between 2013 – 2015

· Rail construction is expected to rise by a whopping 90% between now and 2015 and construction within the energy generation sector will increase threefold

Once my cuppa had gone cold and I’d defaced my copy of the forecast to within an inch of its
life with notes and highlighters, I sat and thought for a moment.
I certainly didn’t feel the suffocation of impending doom like I did a few years ago, but don’t get me wrong, we’re not out of the woods just yet. It looks like we’ve got another two years to get through before things really start to pick up economically.
What’s the answer? Kettle on, heads down and move forward. We’ll get there.

Chill offensive launched on the UK’s supermarkets

For years we have been warned of the growing power of ‘super’-markets and their callous ability to shape the UK’s high street, so it was with a small smile that the retail and leisure team at Willoughby PR learnt of the latest initiative from online giant Amazon.

According to Retail Week last week, after hiring Doug Gurr for his experience in developing an online channel for another leading supermarket brand, Amazon is now planning to sell chill foods and is in the process of testing trial delivery routes... a move that is surely going to send a chill up the spine of our superstores.

Whilst Amazon has neither denied nor confirmed the plans, this latest development would see the UK arm mirroring that of its bigger sister in America, which is already selling and delivering chilled food.

Not against the growing supermarket conglomerates, our initial small smile was merely that of a spectator sitting back awaiting the battle to commence; after all everyone likes a spot of healthy rivalry. Amazon already has the muscle, the online presence, the competitive prices and the next day delivery channels, so a move into chilled foods is surely just another tick in the box for them.

It is also a click in the right direction for consumers. More choice will make online shopping even more competitive and drive prices down for purchasers, which can only be a good thing.

Now that the cat appears to have been let out of the bag, we await with bated breath the imminent announcement from the e-tail giant. However if all goes to plan, it would appear that with Amazon you can now have your cake and eat it!