MEDIA ANALYSIS: First blood in freesheet wars

thelondonpaper is bolstering its ethnic credentials in a bid to stand out from rival London Lite. Clare O'Connor looks at how the paper is developing its agenda.

When thelondonpaper and its rival freesheet London Lite launched within weeks of each other last September, the ensuing turf war was the talk of the capital.

Nine months on, thelondonpaper seems to have the upper hand. ­According to last month’s ABC figures, the News International publication has a circulation of 488,556 compared with 400,229 for London Lite, owned by Associated Press.

It is also beginning to differentiate itself editorially, most recently with features aimed squarely at the burgeoning ethnic community.

Last week, for instance, saw the freesheet run a series of features ­ent­itled Success London, profiling first-generation city dwellers who ‘have made it big’.

Second language
These profiles were run as double-page spreads, in English on the left page, then translated into the entrepreneur’s native tongue on the right. Among those telling their stories was Cobra Beer founder Karan Bilimoria, whose profile was replicated in Hindi.

‘It’s all about thelondonpaper championing London in all its multi-ethnic glory and not being hidebound by old newspaper thinking,’ says editor ­Stefano Hatfield, the one-time editor of PRWeek sister title Campaign, who went on to launch freesheet Metro Inter­national in New York before starting up thelondonpaper.

But while the initiative was the brainchild of Hatfield, it was co-ordinated by features editor Dominic Midgley. Before joining thelondonpaper, Midgley was a features writer at the Daily Mail and columnist at the Daily Mirror. He has also penned a number of biographies of prominent business people, ­inc­luding Lord Goldsmith and, perhaps the most famous first-generation London success story of all, Roman Abramovich.

The Success London feature (right) was a big hit, according to Teji Singh, founder of ethnic PR company Sterling Media. She says: ‘It was refreshing to pick up a mainstream newspaper this week and see that they were aggressively targeting ethnic minorities in the UK. It was a no-holds-barred approach to the ­extent that editorial was written in a foreign language.’

But others are not so sure. Anjna ­Raheja, MD of Media Moguls, another ethnic-focused PR agency, says: ‘Thelondonpaper is distributed in central London and targets those under 55.

People from first-generation families fitting that description are pretty damn fluent in English anyway, and many may not be fluent readers of their mother tongue, even though they speak it. Our agency is trying to educate people about the right time to translate. Showing respect and understanding of a culture is far more interesting than just translating something into Hindi.’

Despite this, Raheja believes that thelondonpaper succeeds above the competition to woo ethnic minority readers by covering events, festivals and culture in minority communities.

‘Coverage of the Bollywood industry is int­eresting,’ she says. ‘It allows us to ­approach the paper with other ideas, and as a paper it is more open to stories that appeal to ethnic min­orities than its competitors.’

Sterling Media’s Singh concurs. ‘I think that thelondon­paper’s content is perfectly ­indicative of the cultural and ­social melting pot that is the great city of London; and it is great to see Aishwarya Rai and Bipasha Basu along­side Lily ­Allen and Amy Winehouse.’

The freesheet plans to repeat its Success London initiative, but will not rely on the ethnic community to prop up its circulation.

According to Frank PR co-founder Andrew Bloch, who was brought in by News Internatio­nal to help launch thelondonpaper, its healthy readership figures are due to distribution planning.

He says: ‘The key to this is the fact that News International was able to nego­tiate exclusive access to the top ten train stations in the capital, as well as Canary Wharf. This is significant in terms of outperforming London Lite and, from a business perspective, targeting a profile of young ABC1 commuters who are the perfect demographic. This is the Holy Grail in terms of advertising.’

Bloch adds that thelondonpaper was a year in the planning, while rival London Lite was launched as a last-minute spoiler to replace the scrapped Associated freesheet Standard Lite.

Tailored editorial
Adrian Brady, managing director of consumer agency Eulogy!, does not see thelondonpaper as an inherently superior publication, but says its does have a reputation in the PR industry as a slick operation, and one that is particularly accessible to PROs.

‘There are some good opportunities in terms of specific columns,’ he says, citing Midgley’s restaurant review column and the Bollywood section. He adds: ‘Readers get used to regularity and PROs get to plan ahead, coming up with ideas weeks in advance and approaching columnists.’

While thelondonpaper welcomes ideas from PROs, features editor Midgley advises a considered approach. ‘The bottom line is that too many people use a scatter-gun app­roach and don’t tailor their approach to individual titles.’

CONTACTS...

Stefano Hatfield
Editor, T 020 7782 1680

Bridget Harrison
Deputy editor, T 020 7782 5527

Lisa O’Carroll
Associate editor/online editor, T 020 7782 4837

Dominic Midgley
Associate editor, T 020 7782 4865

Ella Stimson
Features assistant, T 020 7782 4863

Paul Baldwin
News editor, T 020 7782 4845

Poorna Shetty
Commissioning editor, T 020 7782 4821

Hear Natasha Mudhar, MD of Sterling Media, talk more about ethnic PR here

 

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