Media analysis: Find your way round the ‘Berliner’

The revamp of The Guardian has seen an overhaul of existing sections and the introduction of new features as the paper seeks to win back lost readers and attract new ones. Dan Bloch assesses the impact on PROs

Last week's relaunch of The Guardian was as high profile as any for a newspaper. The bastion of middle-class liberalism has broken the mould in becoming the first national to go full-colour and adopt the Berliner format, midway between a tabloid and broadsheet in size.

The revamp, with new masthead and sections, required three new presses to be built and is the culmination of an 18- month, £80m investment programme.

The switches from broadsheet to compact of The Times and The Independent in particular have hurt The Guardian's sales. From August 2003 – a month before it went compact – to August 2005, The Indie's ABC-audited circulation (including bulks) rose from 217,417 to 255,906. The Guardian's  decreased from 380,522 to 341,698 in the same period.

Courting newcomers
Guardian Newspapers chief executive Carolyn McCall has claimed the new Guardian managed a 40 per cent sales increase on the first day of distribution on 12 September. But boosting circulation was not the primary reason for the redesign, insists Guardian Newspapers marketing director Marc Sands. 'If we were purely chasing circulation, we would have gone tabloid,' he says. 'I'm sure that what we have done will boost circulation but we did not want to
compromise editorial integrity, and the best way to retain that is with the Berliner format.'

The paper has sought to remain true to its core readership while courting newcomers via big changes to its sections. Sports coverage has been increased to a 12-page daily supplement, while Thursday's Life (science and tech) has been replaced by a Technology supplement (focusing on the kit) and Science, a dedicated daily page in the main paper covering health, environmental issues and research breakthroughs.

Science editor Tim Radford says: 'The day of the leisurely 2,500-word read has gone, certainly under the Science banner.' He adds that good stories can still be accepted late in the day before publication, but warns: 'The worst PROs will send us an email, then ring to see if we've received it.'

The Friday Review has become Film & Music; Saturday's edition has been expanded, with Jobs & Money split into a Work and a Money supplement; an eight-page Family section has been added; and the Travel, Weekend and Guide sections have been redesigned.

Crucially, while the supplements of the old Guardian were half the size of the main paper, the relaunch sees them increase to the Berliner size.

Society Guardian editor Patrick Butler says the new format has provided 'freedom to run stories big and allowed better use of photos, colour and space'. He advises PROs to study the section 'forensically' for several weeks before pitching ideas.

The PR community appears generally positive about the relaunch. 'It seems to have more consumer-friendly sections,' says Frank PR co-founder Graham Goodkind. 'I think that if you go full-colour, part of the strategy is that you want more pictures. [Last week] G2 featured Ashley Giles with a Sony digital camera he used to take photos of his Ashes victory celebrations. This sort of thing is really PR-friendly, especially if you are working with celebrities'.

The paper's relaunch has also been keenly observed by its army of public sector readers.

'We used to do quite a lot with the Jobs & Money section,' says Geronimo Communications managing director Karen Harris. 'Splitting it into two potentially multiplies the opportunities for getting coverage.'

But how the paper's sales perform is also important. 'We're looking for audience penetration. The broader and deeper the penetration, the better for our clients,' Harris adds. 'The Times and Independent's sales rose. I'd be surprised if The Guardian's did not.'

Whatever The Guardian's fortunes in its Berliner era, one thing is clear: with The Daily Telegraph standing alone, the broadsheet is a dying breed and PROs need to adapt.

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