NEWS ANALYSIS: Star ascendant among Sundays

It might seem difficult at first glance to see what unites Daily Star Sunday with the FT. But the papers at the bottom and top of the market are the only newspapers to have registered rises in circulation over the year to the end of September.

Morgan: openly welcomes approaches from PROs
Morgan: openly welcomes approaches from PROs

Although at 485,415 Daily Star Sunday still lags significantly behind its Sunday red-top rivals (the News of the World sells nearly 3.5m, with the Sunday Mirror on almost 2.5m), its 7.9 per cent growth over the past year shows it is a title that is attracting attention.

In part, the uplift can be ascribed to multi-million pound promotional marketing support from Daily Star Sunday owner Northern & Shell, which has emb­raced TV advertising and a series of CD give-aways including The Stranglers, Happy Mondays, Bob Marley, Blondie and Grandmaster Flash. Although in sales terms the five-year-old title still lags a long way behind the Sunday Mirror and market-leading News of the World, there is a growing sense that the newspaper has got its act together and found its voice.

Growing voice
‘We were the runt of the litter, now we are matching everyone else blow for blow and we are here to stay,’ says deputy editor Michael Booker. ‘We are a big player now with more and more people wanting to read us. So PROs should come to us with ideas.’

Booker (r) and his boss, editor Gareth Morgan, pride themselves on being accessible and open to approaches from PROs. Big Brother and other mainstream TV-related themes provide staple news fodder but the editorial team will consider all manner of stories, particularly those that chime with the Star’s sassy values.

If a story is strong enough the team will bust a gut right up to print deadline to include it, but Tuesday morning ahead of the week’s first 11.00am editorial conference is the optimum time for pitching ideas. Roughly three-quarters of the week’s avenues of coverage are decided on a Tuesday, with the rem­aining quarter being stories that break over the course of the week.

There is an appetite for picture-led stories, with picture editor Tomasina Brittain a receptive contact, and entertainment and sport are seen as strong areas of content.

‘The key to what we are doing is getting a bit of fun back into newspapers,’ says Morgan. ‘Fleet Street is bereft of fun at the moment. Newspapers are splashing on Gordon Brown not doing something. Last time I checked, not doing something wasn’t a story.’

Morgan rejects the charge that his paper is overly obsessed by television. Print and TV media need to feed off each other, he asserts and, in covering programmes and celebrities, the newspaper is simply reflecting what people talk about. ‘I’m from a generation raised by TV, like Mowgli was by wolves,’ he says.

There is some investigative reporting. For example, a recent story traced many of the guns that have made their way onto the streets of London and Manchester back to a specific location in Lithuania. However, Morgan is quick to point out a typical stretch from the ‘sublime to the ridiculous’, with the same issue also containing a story about the Loch Ness Monster.

‘Sometimes newspapers can perhaps get a bit lost as a melting pot for generalities,’ says James Herring, joint managing director of entertainment PR specialist Taylor Herring. ‘But the Daily Star Sunday has developed a good sense of identity.

‘In the past three or four years we’ve seen loads of teen titles closing, such as Top of the Pops and Smash Hits. Daily Star Sunday has, by putting down a marker and getting behind big popular TV shows like X Factor and Big Brot­her, almost fulfilled the role of being a fanzine for these kinds of programmes.’

Eurostar head of press and events Lesley Retallack says that she has certainly noticed Daily Star Sunday bec­oming more proactive in recent months and adds that its travel section is imp­ortant to the train operator – in particular as a platform for promoting breaks to Disneyland Paris.

Frank PR has lately achieved good exposure for several clients in the pages of the Daily Star Sunday. This included a feature on Premier Inn’s All You Can Eat breakfast after a journalist was invited to take part in a speed breakfast-eating contest; mention of Sure Sport in a piece on rugby star Lawrence Dallaglio; and reference to sponsor Virgin Money when a Star hack challenged darts maestro Phil Taylor to some arrow-chucking.

Participation is key
‘The best bet is to offer them a chance to participate in something,’ says Frank PR chairman Graham Goodkind. ‘They like real-life stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

‘They are generally receptive to new products and the picture editor is keen to do picture-led stories that get clients’ messages across, as long as they work for them visually,’ says Goodkind. ‘The journalists tend to be chatty, fun and honest. They are quite upfront and will say if they don’t like a story, which makes them a lot easier to deal with than some editorial teams.’

Morgan says this is due to his running a small, tight-knit editorial outfit that happily shouts out ideas to each other – with senior staff delighted to field calls from PROs to discuss potential coverage rather than hiding away in executive ivory towers. Because the newspaper is only five years old, Morgan adds, it is not shackled by its own history. This has made it very ‘fluid’ and if a regular feature is seen not to be working it is quickly dropped.

Despite recent progress, the paper has some way to go to improve its profile among communicators. Stuart Higgins Communications managing director (and former Sun editor) Stuart Higgins says he has not had a lot to do with the title, a view shared by The Corporation’s chief executive Gary Farrow, whose clients include Gordon Ramsay, Sir Elton John and Sharon Osbourne. It seems that some top PR practitioners with mass market and ent­ertainment clients are still to be persuaded to take the Daily Star Sunday seriously.

Cerebral readers probably look down their noses at the paper too. Yet it is fair to conclude that the Daily Star Sunday team appears to have hit upon an eff­ective formula that has brought about a stellar rise in sales.

CONTACTS...

Editor – Gareth Morgan T 0871 520 7233

Deputy and news editor – Michael Booker T 0871 520 7424

Picture editor – Tomasina Brittain

Features editor – Susan Hill

Sports editor – Ray Ansbro

Chief reporter – Neil Chandler

Standard email address format: first.last@dailystar.co.uk

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