Sullivan sold the Sport to a group of investors last year. Self-styled creator of laddism (founding editor of Loaded) James Brown was brought in as creative consultant, and he subsequently hired Zoo magazine launch supremo Barry McIlheney as editor-in-chief.
The Daily and Sunday Sport were relaunched in March in a format that Brown describes as a cross between Zoo, Nuts, Bravo and Sky Sports. Topless models, football and questionable headlines (‘Spew Jags') are still there, but adult advertising has been pushed to the back, and girly showbiz stories are nowhere to be seen.
It's also looking quite flash. The Sport commissioned research into its target working-class male audience, which revealed they have considerably more expendable income than the average middle-class man. So, promotions and PR stories about holidays, clothes and gadgets are in ... sex phone lines are on the way out.
Survey stories have proved successful for Cow PR's recruitment client fish4jobs. Recently, the agency gained coverage thanks to a piece of research on why people dislike their jobs. While other papers covered the story in detail, the Sport focused on the light-hearted - colleagues who swear and smell.
Another success for fish4jobs was a league table of ‘top ten randiest professions'. Surprisingly, librarians came out on top, with 57 per cent admitting that they, or a colleague, had ‘got jiggy with a workmate'.
Cow PR account director Russell Williams says: ‘Essentially, it's about working with the news desk to come up with something - giving them some exclusive angles that will work for their readers. I find you can't normally use a standard press release.'
The fact that the newspaper is more off the PR radar than The Sun and The Mirror means that the news desk is far more approachable, and keen to work with PROs on a story.
‘Stories don't necessarily have to be sexy,' advises Williams, ‘but something people would talk about over a pint or cup of tea - salacious stuff, office gossip.'
Lucre Communications set up a national competition in the Sport to find the UK's worst beer garden, on behalf of Ronseal's Eco range of woodcare products. The agency compiled a shortlist of the ‘top ten terrible beer gardens', with photos in the paper.
The winning garden was given a makeover by celebrity gardener Charlie Dimmock using Ronseal Eco products.
Lucre senior account executive Sian Fletcher says: ‘You have to think about the audience and give them a story that's going to be easy to understand, not something they need to think too much about. Think about how the piece will look. Strong images are important.'
On the radar
Cow's Williams says that in the past PROs have overlooked the Sport, but the relaunch has made the paper more acceptable.
Not everyone is completely convinced. Howard Bowden, 3 Monkeys' ex-head of news who is now heading up new sister agency, Challenger Brand PR, said: ‘We sell in stories on a daily basis to everyone from The Star to the FT, yet I would never normally consider the Sport to be on our radar.'
3 Monkeys gained a front page almost by accident from a press release about Indian restaurant client Tiffinbites' plans to launch franchises across the UK. McDonald's bosses, the article claimed, are ‘quaking in their boots', while a Sport stunna tucked into a curry.
‘A splash is a splash,' remarks Bowden, ‘although I can't recall getting a client on the front page of a national and not learning about it for a week.'
TWO MINUTES WITH TH EDITOR
Barry McIlheney, editor-in-chief, Daily and Sunday Sport
Why take this newspaper job after being a magazine man all your life?
Because I'd never done it. Also, when I was at Emap, a lot of people had joined from newspapers, so I felt that the divide was blurring a little bit.
What was the brief?
The Sport had been in decline and I was pretty much given a free run to turn it around, not just in terms of copy sales but also to make it more attractive to advertisers. The paper was sleazy and quite old-fashioned - we wanted to make it more breezy and upbeat.
Has it been successful?
It's too early to say. I'm pretty sure we'll lose some people but over time we will replace them. At the moment we appear to be roughly where we were, at about 90,000.
What do you want from PROs?
Stories we can spin in a different way, or stories that other papers wouldn't see as a story. We're not interested in celebs, but we are interested in drinking, sport and girls.
What shouldn't PROs do?
I get on well with PROs, but they do have a tendency to exaggerate. Is it really the greatest film ever made? And sometimes they don't even get in contact. We're based in Manchester, so we might as well be in Timbuktu as far as PROs are thinking.
What about promotions?
We're very interested in that - we want to do more. People should contact Lee Herbert. Sporting events, drinks, sunglasses, holidays and gadgets all fit in.