Blazing a trail

Blazing a trail

26/10/13.Paul Henderson and Caroline Downey at the Irish Daily Mail International Rules series at Croke Park. Pic: Justin Farrelly.

For years, the Daily Mail in Ireland had an image problem. If one was to have done a straw poll, it is fair to say a lot of Irish people would have described the newspaper as ‘middle England’. As with other British newspapers at the time, there was a lack of connection with the content amid a tendency to see overseas mastheads as reminders of colonisation. All changed when the Irish editions rolled out: changed radically.

The Mail had been derided for what was seen as its grossly unfair treatment of then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. But as the Mahon Tribunal revealed the truth about payments made to Ahern while Minister for Finance, along with findings of corruption against former EU Commissioner Pádraig Flynn, any notions of a Rothermere vendetta against what was then Ireland’s most powerful political party, Fianna Fáil, were roundly dispelled.

Ask media buyers in agencies what they think of the Mail now and you would have to search high and low for a thumbs down. Garret Monahan at Carat says the ANI operation under Henderson has made major strides. They have done well in making the brand more Irish, Monahan says. He points to the close ties with the GAA. Last December, the Irish Daily Mail signed a three-year deal to sponsor all higher education GAA competitions.

The deal led to more newspaper coverage of the third level games which had already developed strong links with the association from the sponsorship of the International Rules series in 2010 and its continued support of the GAA Museum in Croke Park. Monahan also points to the Irish Daily Mail support for the Ireland football team travelling to Euro 2012.

“They have been the most progressive newspaper group in developing digital,” Monahan said. “The pushed augmented reality and studio facilities. They offer online, smartphone and iPad ideas as an alternative revenue stream. On the sales front, they have an open-door approach.” Fiona Field of Mediaworks points to the Daily Mail app.

On the last count, it racked up 58 million page views a month. Activity on the website increased by 81 per cent year-on-year. Cleverly, the Mail Online app can sync content daily, so even readers who do not have online access can still view the content. Field says what really drives the app and the group’s site is the showbiz and entertainment content.

ANI has invested heavily in the app and if they can convert more of their online users they should reap the benefits, Field adds. “A key benefit is the sheer volume of content, which considering the insatiable appetite of some audiences for entertainment, is likely to grow the business further. Content is regularly updated and with a growing smartphone penetration, they would appear to be in a good place to capitalise on the marketplace.”

Fiona Field, Mediaworks

Field, pictured left, says another key element of ANI’s digital offering is the feedback where users can post and rate comments. A slight negative on the app side is that the comments are not Irish-specific and appear in a separate section of the site/mobile app. In contrast, The features comments directly under the article.

It is widely regarded as an exceptionally strong feature as the comments are often as interesting as the actual article and the has recorded impressive traffic growth.

ANI’s print titles have a strong female bias, largely down to its TV Week and You magazines. TGI claims their profile over-indexes on over 55s, which are becoming more sought-after.

But, Field adds, perhaps a barrier to stronger sales is their editorial policy, which may be too tabloid for some readers and too right-wing for others. While the Irish Mail on Sunday has a healthy circulation of 114,114 (ROI ABC July-December 2011), the Irish Daily Mail is much lower in comparison with ROI sales of 49,342, which, one might think, given their strong price offering of €1 Monday to Friday, would be larger.

What about the future? Will they target Irish Sun and Irish Independent readers? Field says that in these times it is vital to define the newspaper brand and follow through from an editorial perspective. Henderson has steered a new commercial emphasis. The group realised the only way to win readers was to provide them with Irish content, sourced and written by local journalists. The fact the newspaper’s owner is not Irish matters not a jot.

Readers want to go into their local newsagent and buy a paper for €1 that informs and entertains them. As with other newspapers, the weekend editions are priced higher. A media zealot, Henderson enjoyed every minute of every day he worked at TV3 and the Irish Daily Star. He may have been a surprise choice for the ANI top job but there is no doubt he has made his presence felt. A Liverpool fan, he grew up the son of a shopkeeper on Dublin’s Church Street.

People in the industry like ‘Hendo’ and say he’s professional, personable, upfront and tends not to take himself too seriously. He loves new ideas. Neil Thompson of MEC  believes Henderson would be an even happier man if he could convert his young female audience into regular Mail readers.  But at least ANI is making money from online – unlike its rivals.

“What I like most Associated (sic), is their innovative style and how easy it is to do business with them. In fairness, the late John Thompson (no relation) set it in motion when he took over at Ireland on Sunday.” But it has not been all plain sailing for Henderson. The decision to publish 26,000 Sunday Tribune lookalike editions just days after a receiver was appointed to the loss-making newspaper caused some disquiet and prompted legal action.

Like every able leader, Henderson compliments those around him. Field says ANI knows its strengths and plays to them. She says the media marketplace has changed considerably and media owners like Associated have adapted their offerings to offer advertising solutions rather than a simple quarter page ad on an early right. ” As well as that,” she adds, “they have been cost competitive in the current climate, which has strengthened them.”

ANI reported a €1.5 million pre-tax profit for the year to the start of last October, up from €1.4m the previous year. Turnover increased by 2.4 per cent to €19.39m during the 2011 financial year and operating profits were up by 9.6 per cent to €1.6m. The group’s main source of revenue is its service contracts with Associated Newspapers. There was a shareholders’ surplus of €946,998 and the payroll bill for the period was €11m.

Press faces a tough battle. But Henderson insists there is no crisis. The newspaper industry is huge and still wields a lot of power. Half a million people go out each day to buy a newspaper. The problem can be trying to find the time to read it. The fact ANI is focused on both digital properties and offline solutions should strengthen the brand portfolio in future.



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