London's paid-for daily is in urgent need of a way to re-engage both readers and media buyers, writes Jeremy Lee.
Is the news that the Evening Standard is looking for a new advertising agency - and presumably, therefore, a fresh marketing strategy - a futile roll of the dice by Associated Newspapers as it tries to rescue a brand that is insurmountably moribund?
Circulation figures certainly show that the paper, which for so long appeared to have the London daily newspaper market cornered, has suffered a dramatic fall from grace in recent years. The most recent Audit Bureau of Circulations figures, for April, reveal a 16% year-on-year fall to an average of 266,214 copies a day.
Mark Gallagher, executive director of Manning Gottlieb OMD, claims that Associated is window-dressing the real results, as it includes bulk copies when it presents them. The publisher now distributes 30,000 more bulk copies to hotels, airlines and trains than it did last year Gallagher says that including these bulks, the decline is far more profound, with one-third of the Standard's circulation falling away.
The impact of a 10p increase in cover price seems to have contributed to the circulation dive; only 74% of the Evening Standard's sales are at the full rate of 50p compared with 88% last year, when the paper cost 40p.
Nonetheless, behind these miserable headline figures, media buyers display a surprising amount of affection for, and a certain degree of optimism about the future of, the venerable newspaper, which was established in 1827.
Gallagher points out that while the Standard's decline has been exacerbated by the launch of the afternoon freesheets - its sister title London Lite and News International's thelondonpaper distribute nearly 900,000 copies between them every day - its fall in circulation is only mirroring the long-term trend afflicting the rest of the newspaper market.
Paul Thomas, investment director at MindShare, agrees with Gallagher's assessment. 'The Standard's circulation was already falling before the freesheets came along,' he says.
Andrew Mullins, managing director of the Evening Standard, who is overseeing its advertising review, puts up a stout defence of the paper's performance. While admitting that the year-on-year figures represent a hit, he says its month-on-month performance is 'pretty stable' - compared with March, its April result represented a decline of just 0.1%. 'We're back on a growth trajectory,' he claims. Gallagher isn't quite so sure, but admits that the Standard's circulation has at least started to plateau. …