Interview with Gavin O’Reilly
Gavin K. O’Reilly was appointed Group Chief Operating Officer of Independent News & Media PLC (INM) in December 2001. He joined the international media group back in 1993 and has held various roles including Managing Director of its yellow page directory division (1993-5), Director of Production Operations (1995-7), Deputy Managing Director (1997) and Managing Director (1998-2000) of its main publishing division in Ireland. In 1999, he also assumed the role as Chief Executive of its entire Irish division. A graduate of Georgetown University School of Business in Washington DC, he formerly worked in London for Advertising group DDB Needham. In the late ‘80’s, he also worked in Stockbroking in London and Asia. He currently resides in Dublin where he is also Chairman of Dromoland Castle Hotel and serves on the board of Independent News & Media PLC, Ashford Castle Hotel, Norkom Technologies, and numerous charitable foundations including the Ireland Funds. He is Chairman of N.N.I. (National Newspapers of Ireland), which hosted the 56th World Association of Newspaper Congress in Dublin in 2003.
newspaper techniques: The WAN Congress took place in May. What were the hot topics among participants in Seoul?
Gavin O’Reilly: As the Congress was the second largest ever in WAN history – with more than 1300 participants from 82 countries – it was an excellent place to assess the mood of the industry, and see firsthand, the renaissance of newspapers. There was a really surprising and good deal of optimism, which clearly has been fueled by underlying increases in both circulation and advertising revenues in many markets. And this positive mood is a marked change from the doom and gloom that seemed to plague the industry some years ago – and that new-found optimism is proving infectious.
The “hot topics” (as you call them) were those winning strategies that are helping newspapers achieve continuing success. Among them: the trend toward compact editions; the conscious drive towards, and impact of, cost efficiencies (outsourcing/ downsizing) and the potential impact on content and advertising; strategies for increasing revenues from Internet operations in both classified and editorial – with discussions focusing on paid-for versus free models and on classified advertising; and a lot of discussion on attracting and recruiting different groups of readers through quality and through targeted publications.
newspaper techniques: As a CEO (and not only as the president of the WAN organization), are there ideas that you brought back to your company?
Gavin O’Reilly: Indeed, there were many ideas that I came away with, which we shall obviously explore further. Naturally, to keep our competitive advantage, it wouldn’t be prudent to reveal the extent of those winning ideas, but believe me, there were plenty good strategies and ideas at the Congress to keep me and my colleagues busy!
Moreover, one of the other most important advantages of a WAN Congress is the unique opportunity to meet publishers and editors from other countries and markets and to discuss not only the common concerns and strategies of the industry, but also, those of our individual businesses.
As you know, the Independent was the first UK “national” publication to adopt the compact format, setting off the current wave of compact editions – so, it was very interesting to hear from newspaper publishers that had gone compact even earlier, and to see their results over a longer period of time.
newspaper techniques: Advertisers are still looking for more “reactive” tools to measure efficiency of the newspaper (along the lines of TV ratings) and capacity to target a variety of audiences. Do you know of interesting ideas that newspapers are perhaps testing?
Gavin O’Reilly: There is no doubt that advertisers are asking for better research on newspaper advertising effectiveness, and so they should. Happily, newspapers are making real positive strides in this area. But that said, we've got to be even better in formulating, disseminating and articulating the results of this research – because the competitive advantage of newspapers is becoming even more compelling – and it’s up to us to communicate this to an often-skeptical marketplace.
In that, I think it is important to understand that so many of the common perceptions of newspapers within the advertising and media-buying industry are too often based on dated myths and prejudices, and not on reality. So it is critical for publishers, and for research initiatives like the WAN newspaper advertising effectiveness project, to focus on research (and then communicate it better) that counters the myths with real, hard facts.
For example, recent effectiveness studies show that when newspapers are added to TV-only advertising schedules, both brand awareness and – more importantly – the propensity of consumers to buy a product increases dramatically.
Newspapers also target and deliver wealthier and brand-loyal consumers. As prosperity increases, so does consumption of newspapers. The opposite is true of television. And there is wealth of research showing that newspapers generate fantastic responses for their advertisers, hence the preponderance of classified and retail in newspapers (which demand immediate and measurable response). And there are so many other examples.
So, I think the important thing is for newspapers to better use all of this research to leverage their clear market advantages, particularly at a time when broadcast media is fragmenting to the degree it is, making it harder for them to reach a mass audience. And let’s be clear: fragmentation is the curse of the broadcasters, and presents newspapers with a wonderful opportunity to reclaim lost-share and build a more robust research base. In that, I’d direct you to last week’s (June 6th 2005) Newsweek magazine – which devoted nearly 40 pages to the real issues that broadcasters are facing, “The Future of TV”. The conclusion one can draw from these series of articles is a simple one: newspapers are the mass-market medium of the future (not the past).
Page first published: 03.08.2005