Last Saturday my children started tussling over the Mirror, the
only time I’ve ever seen them show any keen interest in any paper.
The reason was simple. For the first time a British newspaper is trying
to boost sales by randomly giving away cash, in gaudy ’money bags’
stashed away on the inside pages. The Mirror’s marketing push was
supported by a big TV campaign, which alerted my children to hunt -
unsuccessfully - for pounds 5, pounds 10 and even pounds 50 notes.
Other titles, including the Daily Mail, which is poised to overtake the
Mirror, have considered the same tactic but concluded they have no need
of such extreme promotional methods. It is just one sign of the new
broom approach of Kelvin MacKenzie, newly-promoted deputy chief
executive of Mirror Group, who has to try to halt the wilting
circulation of its three main titles: year-on-year the Sunday Mirror and
the People lost nine per cent, the Mirror four per cent.
There is also renewed takeover speculation: two media groups are
rumoured to be eyeing the group as its share price wilts. The City is
losing confidence in David Montgomery: he can take credit for salvaging
the titles from Robert Maxwell’s mess but has shown scant strategic
vision in knowing how to develop them, beyond cutting editorial costs
and making questionable diversifications.
Can Kelvin do the trick? Well, believe me, the Sun and the News of the
World have been put on ’red alert’. News International are worried: the
former Sun editor knows the game only too well. There is no doubt that
Mirror Group’s papers will improve under him: already the Mirror has
thrown out the last vestiges of the disastrous relaunch it underwent
exactly a year ago. The front pages, little more than ’posters’ have
been handed back to news. and there have been good splashes.
News International’s titles are sharing something of the same slide.
The Sun, in defensive mode, is about to adjust its editorial mix and the
new resources being poured in include a branding campaign and
The real problems with the ’MacKenzie as saviour’ line are these. Is
there any sign that he espouses the values the Mirror should stand
No matter how good a team of writers he starts to assemble, there is a
gaping intellectual gap at the heart of the paper he is singularly
ill-equipped to fix. Further, the ’red tops’ degeneration stems from a
long-term failure to modernise both the news and features agenda to
include a wide repertoire of interests. As the Sun’s ex-editor he bears
But don’t be surprised at the bustle. Panic is in the air. All newspaper
groups are expecting an advertising downturn to start squeezing them by
this time next year. The good times are not going to last for that long.