Keep it colourful for new Observer

As Sundays have become busier, readers have become less likely to spend hours devouring lengthy articles and pondering the issues of the week. So newspapers have evolved.

The latest change in the Sunday market came last weekend when The Observer followed The Guardian to go full-colour and switch to the smaller Berliner size. Despite a content and design overhaul, 'the biggest issue is the format change', says Guardian Newspapers marketing director Marc Sands, claiming: 'Broadsheet is dead.'

Although circulation is not in the league of The Sunday Times (1,395,046) or The Mail on Sunday (2,337,740), The Observer has been selling well, its 436,882 November ABC reflecting a stable year.
Financial troubles that started in the 1970s – and several changes of ownership before GNL bought the title in 1993 – mean The Observer has  been losing money for years, but the savings it will accrue by switching to The Guardian's printing presses are predicted to help it break even by 2007. And if the redesign attracts more readers, the world's oldest Sunday, launched in 1791, may make a profit.

Fighting for space
One former senior correspondent on the paper says the change will raise the game for PR practitioners: 'Reducing the size of pages leads to tighter writing and greater competition for space, even though there are more pages. This has been the case with other broadsheets that went compact.'

Indeed, last weekend's relaunch issue had fewer stories on its first news pages. A place within them would have been highly sought after, according to Shine Communications publicist Zac Schwarz: 'Prominent coverage will tend to be followed up on Monday as it sets the agenda for the week.'

The addition of section 7 Days, however, including a guest diary spot and a revamped Pendennis column, offers more opportunity for nuggets of gossip to get aired. On the sports pages there are more reviews and reader offers. And glossy supplement Sport Monthly has an expanded back section, where sport-related TV programmes, films, gadgets and DVDs are reviewed.

What's more, says OSM assistant editor Nick Greenslade, 'we are always looking to inject more humour into the magazine, so quirky ideas for features are appreciated'. And PROs can help by providing interesting people – commentators, ex-players, pundits, athletes – for Q&As.

The use of colour throughout makes broadsheet-quality photographs even more attractive, and 'highlights the importance of a good working relationship with the picture desks on the nationals,' says Schwarz. One very visual section, the Escape travel pages, particularly benefits from the new format. Submissions should be sent before Tuesday to safely make the Friday deadline. Like other features sections, the Escape team works from Monday to Friday, unlike the news desk's Tuesday to Saturday cycle.

Review now includes a greater number of shorter pieces, allowing more opportunity for PROs. A regular Celebrity Shuffle feature, for example, asks stars to discuss the tracks on their MP3 players.

Review editor Jane Ferguson warns PROs against using freelancers to sell-in stories: 'I would be much less likely to use the idea. We have plenty of talented contracted writers, and prefer to pick our own.'

Freud Communications director Patrick Keegan notes The Observer's readership includes many opinion formers in the public service and entertainment sectors. According to Ferguson, Review is 'not just arts and books – it is culture in its broadest sense', and Keegan says PROs can use this breadth: 'Sometimes stories that don't make the news pages are right for the arts section.'

Glossy supplements
With the addition of the monthly Observer Woman – first issue this weekend – and the revamped, slightly smaller Observer Magazine, supplements are clearly taken seriously.

'It's rare for major news to break on a Sunday,' explains marketing chief Sands, 'so Sunday newspapers do nod to magazine styles, and it is often the supplements that drive circulation.'

Observer Magazine has more fashion pages, and a new sex column. But while it is slightly feminised, says editor Allan Jenkins, 'it is balanced, with strong male voices and in-depth features, such as last week's piece on [breast cancer drug] Herceptin.'

With the Television section now a standalone booklet, Observer Magazine has become similar to a consumer title, and PROs would do well to act accordingly, says Jenkins: 'Think about how you could work for our readers. Take us seriously.'

Surprisingly, perhaps, given the volume of freebies sent to consumer magazines, most Observer journalists say they do not receive much, so packages are potential attention-grabbers. When DVDs are sent, for example, they usually go straight to the reviewer, whereas it might be useful to send the desk editor a copy too.

But watch out when sending releases to the sports desk, which says it has a feature in the pipeline entitled 'Worst press release of the week'. Another good reason for PROs to be extra careful with mail-outs.

Contacts
Editor Roger Alton
editor@observer.co.uk

Editor's PA Jade Parker
jade.parker@observer.co.uk

News desk administrator
Rowan Walker 020 7713 4254

Comment & Analysis assistant
Edie Reilly 020 7713 4314

Assistant editor (7 Days contact)
Rob Yates 020 7713 4254 

Review editor Jane Ferguson
020 7713 4222

Arts editor Sarah Donaldson
0207 713 4246

Commissioning editor Akin Ojumu
020 7713 4491 

Sports senior editorial administrator
Victoria Barrett 020 7713 4300

Escape assistant Rachel Foster
020 7713 4182

Business editor's PA Michele Wollstonecroft 020 7239 9512
Media business correspondent James Robinson business@observer.co.uk

Cash and Property researcher
Ben Flanagan 020 7713 4301

Observer Magazine assistant
Laura Potter 020 7713 4175 magazine@observer.co.uk

Observer Food Monthly and Observer Woman features assistant
Rebecca Seal 020 7713 4146

Observer Music Monthly assistant Sarah Boden 020 7713 4797

Observer Sport Monthly assistant editor Nick Greenslade 020 7278 2332

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