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Paul Henderson, MD, Associated Newspapers Ireland
Paul Henderson, MD, Associated Newspapers Ireland

Paul Henderson, managing director of Associated Newspapers Ireland talks to Fionnuala Carolan about the newspaper industry and gives his take on why the Irish are still so fond of their daily paper



19 October 2012

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Paul Henderson is a well-known figure in Irish newspaper publishing. Despite his young age, he has an impressive CV, learning his trade with The Irish Daily Star and being influential in the start-up and success of TV3. When The Irish Daily Mail and The Irish Mail on Sunday were being established, he was recruited as managing director and it has turned out to be a sound decision with the paper performing extraordinarily well in the Irish market over the past few years.

The recent JNRS statistics for 2011-12 shows that The Irish Daily Mail recorded the highest growth in daily readership of all the Irish newspapers at 159,000, up 13% this year. The Irish Daily Mail has had the best circulation performance and the best readership performance in the market for the last four years, which is certainly something Henderson can be proud of.

While results were good for Associated Newspapers, the industry as a whole has taken a bit of a battering over the past two years. The JNRS figures state that 2.88 million Irish adults read a newspaper regularly but this compared with 2.94 million in the previous year. While the recession has a lot to answer for, the main factor for the decline was the loss of three titles from the market. The closure of The Irish Star on Sunday, The Tribune and The News of the World within the past two years has been a significant blow to the industry.

Henderson does not apologise for his success and says that Associated Newspapers Ireland has taken risks and made sound decisions which has left the company in a strong position today.

"Over the last four years, I’ve never been as relaxed going into a new financial year as I am now. The product has never been as good as it is now. I genuinely feel that we have a fearless approach to how we treat news and that comes from the two editors, Sebastian on the Sunday and Erica on the daily. Our opportunity was that I think other Irish media organisations have let Irish media down whereas we have questioned things. It’s probably the reason that we are going in one direction and other titles are going in the other. The Irish people are no fools. When the product is right and your promotions are right, then you will sell newspapers."

He says that it strikes him as bizarre the way other organisations carry out promotions by driving people away from those that sell their newspaper everyday. "I just find it really disrespectful to the retail trade when organisations do this whole plan of say, driving customers into toy shops for a promotion."

He adds that when The Irish Daily Mail carries out price promotions he doesn’t expect the retailers to lose out. "It’s my promotion, I’ll take the hit on it. The retailers still get their full margin. In the long run the better we do, the better they do and vice-versa. It’s a symbiotic relationship."


Life in the fast lane

Henderson admits that he likes working in a fast-paced environment and enjoys the challenge of being involved in the foundations of a project. "If you can do something in your sleep, you should stop doing it," he advises.

Over the years he had worked his way through the ranks in The Irish Daily Star but left there to launch TV3 as one of three group sales managers. He knew it was a risk but says that he thrives on the pressure of launching a new product. "We all gave up really good jobs and we were back to building something up again. We started off with six of us in a room which became a couple of hundred in a few months."

When TV3 was up and running he was enticed back to The Star as sales director when it was launching the Sunday paper, The Irish Star on Sunday, which sadly ceased printing last year. Henderson says it broke his heart to see that happen. 

Dealing with the recession

When ShelfLife spoke with Henderson back in 2010 he said that he chose not to take part in the recession which was considered a brave statement at the time. I asked him whether in hindsight it was realistic to think like that?

"If we look back it has served us well – by any scale we are the best performing newspaper group in a broken world. Over the past three years we have improved our bottom line by over 50%, maintained sales, grown readership and developed a nice profitable online business. 

"I think it’s a state of mind. There are economic realities and it would be stupid not to allow for that but what we had to factor into our world was a young, dynamic, exciting, well-resourced organisation with really talented people and with the independence to do that job.

"So while it is flippant to say we didn’t take part in the recession – we adapted and overcame as they say in the US marines!"
Kudos must be given to Henderson for having this mentality because launching a newspaper at the beginning of a recession, can certainly not have been easy. He explains that when he accepted the job as managing director of Associated Newspapers Ireland, the Irish economic state seemed buoyant. It was during his three months of garden leave, as he was touring around Ireland on a motorbike, that the recession officially broke.

"I didn’t really know how much I’d bitten off," he admits. However he was determined to make a success of things and he committed to doing two things – ensuring that everything about the paper was to be Irish and to always pay their bills on time.
"To be an Irish newspaper you have to be, make, print, buy everything in Ireland," he says. "I still stand by that and think it’s very important. It’s common sense. If we all print our newspapers here the unit price will fall because the overheads fall for the few printers on the island. So when it gets better, it gets better for everybody.

"Another thing I believe in is paying your bills on time as there is no interest rate gain anymore for leaving money on deposit. If you say you are in business with someone, be it a supplier, up or down stream, then treat them like they’re your partner. So if you say you’ll pay them within 28 days, then do it. Why do you want to put the people you work with under pressure?"

There’s life in the newspaper industry yet

While the advent of the Internet, tablets and smart phones should have sounded the death knell for Irish newspapers, it seems that they have bucked the trend and remained a staple purchase of Irish people to this day.

Henderson says that Irish people’s love of conversation and our sociable nature fuels our love of the newspaper. "80% of people here read a newspaper with 16-24 year olds as major contributors to this. You never really had national newspapers in America so it never really penetrated the 40% mark. In the UK, penetration is at 50%. As a nation we consume an awful lot of local radio, cinema etc. We love media. It feeds our appetite for conversation and as a nation we really love to talk."

Henderson is hugely positive in his outlook for the year ahead and the industry as a whole. For him, working together for the common good is the way forward. "We are 157 really talented people with a common goal. Our unique selling point has to be harvesting that talent at an individual level and making it work so well as a group together and that’s just on the inside. If we didn’t have all the support in the trade then it would be in vain and for that we have to support them in our activities. At the end of the day we are all in this together or not at all."


We love newspapers in Ireland!

• There are 156 papers between national, local and regional titles
• There are over 4,000 places to buy a newspaper
• It’s the only reason to go into a shop every day (Think about it, milk lasts nine days now!)
• There are over 4,500 people employed in the newspaper industry; creating €829 million in revenue plus another half a billion in goods and services

Amount of newspapers bought in Ireland

• Everyday 530,000 people go out to buy a newspaper plus 80,000 people buy an evening paper bringing the number to over 600,000
• On Sunday it’s 920,000
• That means that every week we buy 4.5 million newspapers
• With cover prices ranging from €1 to €2.90 Irish people spend €7 milllion buying newspapers every week!  

Readership in the daily market

• 80% of the population read a newspaper (76% watch TV, 85% listen to radio)
• 50% read a daily paper
• 60% read a Sunday paper
What happened January-June?
Year-on-Year daily sales are down 45,000 copies or 7.9%

The Sunday market

Sunday year-on-year is down 84,000 copies or 8% – period on period it’s only down 1.24%
Almost half of this is down to no News of the World – ie Sun Sunday now does 77,000 compared to News of the World at 115,000.

So what is happening?

In the daily market – several things:
1. Fewer people moving around – employment etc
2. Less frequency of buying – going to the shop – collateral damage saving money
3. For the broadsheets – workplace buying cut back
4. Red tops – builders with the breakfast rolls cut back
5. Other news sources
6. Fewer papers to buy – no Star Sunday, no Tribune, no News of the World. This breaks a habit.






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