Christopher Bisco, Managing director (Publishing)
Managing director (Publishing), Cumbrian Newspapers Group (UK)
Christopher Bisco joined Cumbrian Newspapers Group based in Carlisle in 2001. Prior to that, he worked for Portsmouth & Sunderland Newspaper plc (acquired in 1999 by Johnston Press). He has a background in business and marketing and worked for Cadbury Schweppes and Unilever as a commercial member of their brand management teams. He left Unilever in the late 70's to join KPMG as a management consultant and stayed with them until 1983 when he joined PSN plc.
New signs of change
The results of your recent survey has prompted me to make the following observations. But in doing so, I have looked not only at the current picture but I have gone back and compared it with some points I made in Newspaper Techniques in January 1997 and at the Beyond the printed word conferences about that time.
Has new media evolved over the last ten years as I expected, or has the pattern been different? Have there been any major surprises?
In 1997 I was at Portsmouth & Sunderland Newspaper plc leading the very successful ventures they were pioneering into new media.These included not only one of the early newspaper Internet sites but also audiotext, and a unique cable text venture.
I was promoting an integrated strategy in which our strong newspaper brands were extended from their printing heritage into the various new media using them primarily as new routes to market. This meant we could exploit our core brand strengths and contacts with our customers by providing them with new services. I believed we should also integrate operations into the mainstream of our businesses which would give us economies of scale which, in turn, would give us an advantage over our competitors who had stand alone new media businesses.
I argued that this strategy would put us in the best position to wean our businesses into the new media while at the same time holding on to our audiences and our classified revenues – which were our financial bedrock.
I thought it likely that our margins would be eroded by new competition (especially for classified), but we needed to use all the strengths we could muster to adopt a multi-
The key point was that these new routes to market should give us opportunities to expand our audiences and to develop new advertising services.
This was very radical stuff in 1997 and created a lot of interest, some of which was very hostile.
Some argued that this was a passing fad and that we should not let any of the Internet techies anywhere near our businesses. It would simply fail and go way!
Others said that the model was wrong, we should launch entirely new brands, possibly with the objective of floating them and making a big capital gain.
I was instinctively against the idea of launching new brands for the new media because we would not be using our historic strengths and we would be fundamentally adopting a much more risky strategy which could break up our businesses.
I believed we needed to make an orderly transition into a business model which grew our audiences, and provided new opportunities to grow into a multi-
So what happened? Was I right or wrong back there in 1997 when all this was very new and very uncertain?
Many strategies have been tried over the last decade within the UK regional press. Some of the larger groups have launched separate new brands attempting to catch a national market, and there have been launches of national classified brands. But these have had varying success and only one that I know of – Autotrader -
Various commercial models have been tried in the States and throughout Europe. Its probably fair to say that a lot of people have lost a lot of money experimenting to find the right solution, but there is now a general tendency back towards using historic brand strengths and the inclusive mutli-
We now have a lot more competition than we had before, particularly from the search engines, shopping sites and alternative forms of news distribution. Readers are now creating their own content and exchanging information through new sites such as MySpace and YouTube. There is not as much reliance on traditional journalistic skills within these new ventures and people are creating their own networks of news contacts.
What has definitely happened is that we have been able to build big new audiences on top of our core newspaper readership; in our case by about 20%. But what we have not yet been good enough at doing is to convert that new audience in to proportionately greater revenues. People still won’t pay for news and we have been slow to convince advertisers to spend more on reaching our new, larger, combined media audiences.
Why? We all know that there has been a big struggle to fully integrate new media content and operations within our newspaper-
Even our customers have been slow to change their habits in the way they use us. They still think of us as only newspapers; they can’t get their heads round the idea that we are now – or trying to be – multi-
But there are new signs of change now emerging with multi-
And finally, it’s become obvious that we need to be better at marketing our businesses. If our business has changed, we can’t allow customers to carry on thinking that we only offer the same services that we supplied twenty years ago.
We’ve changed and our customers need to know that we have. We need much more professionally to market ourselves and to re-
Our customers have trusted us in print for centuries; now we have to get them to trust us as multi-
After all, we can do more for them now than we’ve ever been able to do before!!
Page first published: 08.12.2006