Clinton Manning: Why I joined PR

Former Daily Mirror businesses editor Clinton Manning has explained that he chose to switch to a career in City PR partly because of the 'painful structural changes newspapers are engaged in today'.

Column: Clinton Manning
Column: Clinton Manning

In an opinion piece for PRWeek (below), Pelham Bell Pottinger’s new director of support services said the UK media was in an ‘invidious position’.

‘Popular papers such as the Mirror are… incurring the significant additional costs of providing digital content online, with too little return from advertisers.’

‘In future people will read papers on their Kindles, Kobos or iPads… The economics of the industry will be transformed. With no newsprint bills, no trucks or other distribution costs it will be back in business.

‘Sadly, I fear it could take years for this transition to be completed.’

Opinion: Clinton Manning, director of support services, Pelham Bell Pottinger

'After nearly 18 years at the Daily Mirror, the time has come for a new challenge.

It was never going to be an easy decision to leave, as I was privileged to work with some superb journalists and some terrific characters during that time.

The Mirror’s proud history and what it stands for will remain close to my heart but now I am relishing the opportunity to work with another talented team at Pelham Bell Pottinger.

If you ask me why now, I would say that it is at least partly due to the painful structural changes newspapers are engaged in today.

While the industry is right in believing the future is digital, few have really found the formula to make online pay.

If you are the FT or Wall Street Journal you probably can charge readers for content.

This is partly because there is a perception that those papers have unique content, much of which may have a monetary value. In other words, readers/investors believe they will somehow get their money back or be given an insight that may provide a material benefit of some kind.

The other reason they can charge is that in many cases those individuals are not paying those subscriptions - their companies are.

They're unlikely to stop because their competitors are paying for their people to have that information and firms don't want to risk being put at a disadvantage.

It is very different for mainstream websites bolted on The Sun, Daily Mail or Mirror. Yes, they have some outstanding writers and tenacious journalists breaking stories.

But it is debatable whether they have sufficient unique content to persuade enough people who want their news delivered this way to part with hard-earned cash.

Even The Times Online recently revealed it has only 120,000 subscribers.

Part of the problem is that there are 'free' alternatives such as the BBC with a lot of overlapping content. Of course, the BBC's online services are not really free but people have already paid for them through the licence fee.

While this imbalance remains, popular papers such as the Mirror are in an invidious position.

They are incurring the significant additional costs of providing digital content online, with too little return from advertisers.

Worse still, the websites are giving some people a reason NOT to buy the paper. If they can cherry-pick the material they really value - such as sport and showbiz - for free then why part with 45p a day for the privilege of smudging the print on their fingers?

This will change. In future, people will read papers on their Kindles, Kobos or iPads. Hopefully they will be happy to pay and I feel certain they will still turn to trusted brands such as the Mirror to help steer them to what is important.

Even if they don't pay much this will be a seismic shift. The economics of the industry will be transformed. With no newsprint bills, no trucks or other distribution costs it will be back in business. While this will be detrimental to some other groups of workers, it should mean there is more money to invest in great journalists producing cracking content. It will also create far more opportunities for dialogue and interaction with readers than today’s print press.

Sadly, I fear it could take years for this transition to be completed.

In the meantime, it seems as if the only way for newspaper managements to square the circle of investment in digital and falling circulation is to cut costs.

This is inevitably sucking resources from the newspapers. It means fewer people doing more work and, crucially, fewer opportunities for career progression.

By contrast, the digital revolution is playing into the hands of effective PR professionals, opening up opportunities.

Many companies are rightly becoming increasingly concerned about the power of the web and social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and You Tube to damage their reputations.

Of course, the internet can be a huge force for good, opening up markets businesses that would never have had access to in the past.

But it is a double-edged sword. If firms make a mistake or deliver duff services, word can spread like wildfire and, of course, the internet has no boundaries.

As a result, shrewd management teams will increasingly involve PR advisers at an earlier stage in the process of any business changes or new products or service launches.

This should help them steer clear of some potential pitfalls and the accompanying negative coverage.

Hopefully, my experience - which includes 20 years of the cut and thrust of national newspaper newsrooms as well as exposure to the digital world of blogging and Twitter - will mean I can play a valuable part in that process, as well as helping firms steer clear of the words or actions likely to provoke negative headlines.

But while I look forward to fresh challenges, I will continue to look back on my time in newspapers with huge affection.

Of course, some are enduring a torrid time right now as they are, in some cases rightly, held to account for overstepping the mark in pursuit of the next killer exclusive.

But at their best they are dynamic, powerful forces for good and reining in authority, a fact that Lord Leveson's Inquiry into press standards would do well to remember.'

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