Media Analysis: Sun Online moves out of the shade

The Sun Online has developed into Britain's most-viewed tabloid website, and its readers are not all 'white van men'. David Quainton speaks to the editorial team about what they want from PR professionals

The Sun remains a national institution on the high street but, like most newspapers, has seen its daily sales slide in recent years. In response the Current Bun has beefed up its online presence, including a revamp of its website late last year, as people increasingly fav­our getting their news online.

The Sun Online , edited by Pete Picton, is certainly popular – last year it notched up its billionth page impression, a statistic that aff­irmed its position as Britain’s most-viewed tabloid website.

‘The question of who is winning the online race is a difficult one,’ says ass­istant online editor Marc Webber. ‘We are up against traditional news­paper groups, but also internet-service providers, too.’

The Sun Online’s competitors are not confined to tabloids such as the Daily Mirror (whose online offering picks up just under half the readers of The Sun Online), and its readership also has a different profile to that of the daily paper.

Broad appeal
‘The Sun Online’s readership is not just “white van men”,’ insists Webber. ‘It is office workers and people at home, which creates a slightly different audience from The Sun’s readers.’

The site’s format is now much brigh­ter and brasher than its rivals – the front page is laden with information and adverts, which must surely put off some first-time visitors – but much of the content will be familiar because it is lifted word-for-word from that day’s paper. Increasingly, though, articles are being generated solely by the online team.

MySun is an online community with a name similar to a certain networking site. There are also several jobs and property-search sections, Sun Bingo, dating and a significant volume of dieting coverage.

Webber says the latter has proved popular so far this year.

Journalists within the online editorial team clamour for multimedia exclusives to drive people to the website and get them to bookmark it on their browser (80 per cent of The Sun’s moving content, such as video footage, is controlled by its journalists, the other 20 per cent is managed by online content outfit Roo Media).

Victoria Newton’s popular Bizarre showbiz pages are repeated at The Sun Online , but online showbiz editor Simon Rothstein says PR executives could seek to exploit the extra space of the website.

He adds: ‘On a basic level there is more room online, which means more content and more stories that would not necessarily make it into the paper. But we are also always looking for innovative ways in which to showcase showbiz stories.’

One successful and popular recent pitch involved an online poll around Icelandic girlband Nylon and their British equivalent Stonefoxx – readers were asked to vote for their favourite.

‘It was free and interactive and would not have worked as well in the paper,’ says Rothstein. ‘Exclusive video content and promotions will always stand a good chance of coverage – but exclusivity is crucial.’

For a further marked difference bet­ween the paper and its online cousin, look no further than The Sun’s wrestling coverage, which is sporadic within the paper but constantly updated online.

The Outside Organisation promotes World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Account executive Henry Jacob, who works on the brief, says: ‘The WrestleCast [a podcast with wrestling coverage] has been very successful. The Sun’s online team is easy to get on with and is always looking for new ideas.’

Jacob says that other clients also appear to be warming to The Sun Online’s positive impact, less freq­uently viewing it as the print version’s poorer sister.

International reach
Adrian Brady, MD at PR firm Eulogy!, argues that The Sun Online has greater global reach than the paper, so targeting the site can make more sense for some (usually international) clients. Brady adds that agencies need to emphasise this more to clients.

Calls to The Sun Online’s journalists (see below) need, of course, to be well timed. Editorial meetings take place between 11am and 1pm, and calls after 5pm are less likely to be successful as the team will be busy preparing for the next day’s output.

The team also advises against badgering, too. ‘Don’t email every five minutes,’ says Rothstein.

‘There are a number of reasons why a story will not go up straight away.’

More generally, Webber says: ‘At the moment there are areas of the site that are under-exploited [by PROs] – I personally work on the money section and there’s plenty of scope for content, it’s had 300 per cent growth in the past three months. Readers are taking much more notice of personal finance after the Farepak scandal.’

The overall site is poised for another refresh ‘in the near future’ – something likely to result in further avenues for client coverage. In the interim, The Sun Online’s journalists advise PR professionals to be alert to its changing sections and approach them with timely, exclusive ideas.

The Sun Online – who PROs need to know

Editor, Pete PICTON: T 0207 782 4340
Assistant editor, Marc WEBBER: T 0207 782 4347
Technology editor, Jonathan WEINBERG: T 0207 782 4341
Features editor, Laura HAYES: T 0207 782 4048
Sports editor, Dave THOMAS: T 0207 782 4553
Showbiz editor, Simon ROTHSTEIN:T 0207 782 4346
Travel editor, Lisa MINOT: T 0207 782 4284

General enquiries can be sent via email to

Sections include:
News; Sport; Bizarre; (showbiz); Have Your Say; Video, movies and TV; Virals; Women; Dieting; Real Life; Page 3; Motors; Gizmo (gadgets); Podcasts; Competitions; Money.

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