Magazine article The Spectator

Daily Telegraph Circulation Affected by an Act of God

Magazine article The Spectator

Daily Telegraph Circulation Affected by an Act of God

Article excerpt

The time when editors knew best has long since passed. Once they simply put into their papers the things they thought their readers wanted to read. Now they are supposed to think like marketing men, and if they can't do so the professional marketing types will be on hand with their `focus-- group findings' and `quantitative research', which purport to establish, regardless of the editor's thoughts on the subject, what the readers really want. Let us call this relationship between editorial and marketing a creative tension.

I don't know when the Daily Telegraph acquired a marketing department, but it certainly did not have one when I first worked there in the late Seventies. Perhaps the paper had no need to find out about its readers, for the journalists largely were the readers, which is to say they were writing for people remarkably like themselves. At any rate, the modern age eventually hit the Daily Telegraph and with it the inevitable marketing men. The paper was gradually 'repositioned', on the whole successfully, to offer a greater appeal to younger readers. If you occasionally wonder about the profusion of film stars, disc jockeys and half-- naked young ladies in your Daily Telegraph, not to mention long stories about footballing heroes such as Gazza, wonder no more. The marketing men say this is what the younger readers want and the older ones will have to lump it.

And perhaps they are right. The circulation of the Daily Telegraph has held up pretty well under a sustained onslaught from the cut-price Times, though that seems to be phuttering out. But there may be another reason for the paper's success. Charles Moore, appointed editor in December 1995, evidently felt that some changes had to be accepted as the price for editing a newspaper in the modern age. But at the same time he greatly improved the leaders, giving them a voice and sophistication which they had lacked for many years, and he introduced a new page of columnists. In other words, he wised up parts of the paper while allowing other parts to dumb down, and in circulation terms, at least, the strategy has been a success.

The marketing men respect Mr Moore for this, and I'm sure they like him, but they may regard this Old Etonian, Roman Catholic, High Tory as a bit of an odd fish, not really the sort of chap they would normally expect to come across. Perhaps these mild prejudices were activated when Mr Moore recently suggested a six-part series on the history of Christianity. Eyes were rolled, and impolite words muttered. This was not good branding, the marketing men thought. The young readers might not like it. There would be no advertising, since God, if He exists, does not have a hotline to Drew, Line & Twinkle, the very fashionable new advertising agency in Covent Garden. And where, on earth, was the payback? The marketing honchos were moody, but Mr Moore persisted. By way of a sop, it was agreed to call the 'partwork' 'AD', which seemed short and snappy and might appeal to younger readers who, though perhaps a little hazy on church history, were thought to respond well to acronyms like 'TFI'.

Well, three weeks ago the first part of 'AD' appeared, and some of the marketing men prayed for the first time in their lives. Much to their astonishment circulation rose that Saturday to 1,238,000, from 1,225,000 the previous week. Was this perhaps a freakish blip? The following Saturday, with part two of 'AD' nestling in the midst of the Telegraph's 11-section behemoth, sales rose to 1,248,000. …

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