‘Mark My Words’

People are reading fewer print newspapers now than they were fourteen years ago

People are reading fewer print newspapers now than they were fourteen years ago.

We know, hold the presses right?

But we didn’t come here to tell you what you already knew.

We’ve put together a graph plotting the circulations of five daily broadsheet papers over the past fourteen years. The overall shapes might be familiar, but below and on the graph we’ve highlighted some surprising things you might not have been aware of.

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Here’s the most important thing: as we tell our clients, always check the bathwater for babies. Of the papers we looked at, only one – the Financial Times – remains in steep decline in its print circulation (this could be explained by the FT’s present digital push, and its wealthy, tablet-owning audience).

Of the rest, two have been near-level since 2012 (The Telegraph and The Times) and one is actually reaching more people than it was this time last year (The Guardian).

So think twice next time you’re chatting away at a dinner party, happily accepting “the death of print” as a given. The old days are long gone, but this is a medium which still has a role to play in any communications strategy.

Major news events are still a driver of sales.

In 2001, established, trusted news sources The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent all saw a spike in circulation. The public were rushing to newstands to find out what had happened in New York on September 11.

In subsequent years, the major events that drove sales were those which individual papers could lay claim to.

When a paper leads the agenda on a major event, it benefits from a circulation boost. This suggests that readers keep returning to the source of the story for the most pertinent and trusted updates. You’ll notice this in our data for The Telegraph in November ’09, following their breaking of the expenses scandal. You’ll also see it at The Guardian after their publication, with Wikileaks, of the Afghan war logs in July 2010, and their recent use of the Snowden files.

The Times also enjoyed a spike when it launched its “cycle safe” campaign in 2006.

This suggests that the public still recognises distinct brands within the print media. Even as online habits dilute readerships, people will return to the source of an original story.

We should point out that these stories don’t boost the brand in the long term: just look at The Telegraph, whose expenses scandal boost was followed by its most dramatic decline.

The benefits of switching to new formats are now, in all cases, negated.

The Times, The Guardian and The Independent all benefitted from launching smaller print formats during the last decade.

The circulations of all three have now dropped below where they were before switching to the new formats.

This shows that public resistance to print runs deeper than a feeling that it is inconvenient. It’s unlikely that minor improvements to a print format will ever reverse the general decline – reading habits have changed too much.

Digital success and print success are unrelated.

Of the papers we looked at, arguably The Telegraph, the Financial Times and The Guardian have been most ambitious in their digital strategies. The Guardian has long been lauded for embracing the internet early on, pioneering an online comment format now copied by its rivals, and leading the pack in data visualisation. Both The Telegraph and the Financial Times have drawn attention for shifting to “digital first” business models.

A look at our graph shows no relationship between the successes of these three papers. The Guardian has enjoyed some of the least dramatic losses of any paper we looked at, the Financial Times was strong for much of last decade but is now in a steep decline, and The Telegraph looks to be levelling out following a huge drop in circulation.

It’s difficult to say why this might be, but it’s likely because online and print readerships tend to be different. The average age of a reader of Telegraph.co.uk in Q1 2013, for example, was just over half that of the print editions’ readers.

Most UK broadsheet titles’ circulations are leveling out.

With the exception of the Financial Times, which competes in a slightly different market to our other examples, the decline of the papers we looked at appears to be slowing or stopping altogether.

It’s important not to be so forward thinking you forget what still works in the present. This is an important lesson to bear in mind when considering UK daily papers. A good story in The Times’s print edition is still spread across about 400,000 papers, and has been for two years. A story in today’s Guardian will actually reach more people than it would have this time last year.

We’ll be watching with interest to see if this is a plateau or a more long-running trend.

The Art of the Publicity (or a nasty case of ‘Hirstism’)

This week saw the birth of a great stuntster. Clayton Pettet, the student who exploded across the internet last October when he announced plans to lose his virginity for an artwork  has finally made good on his promise.

Well, sort of. According to the Telegraph  the actual event involved no hanky panky, little nudity and nothing more erotic than a bit of fiddling about with a banana. The media had been spoofed. Pettet said he had been playing on assumptions critics had made about the work. In so doing, he led 10,000 people to apply for tickets to the show.

As he dreams up his next ruse, Pettet could take some advice from a great media operator, and an old friend of mine, Joey Skaggs . Joey has had the media jumping through hoops since the 60’s, from persuading reporters to scream out their inner pain live on camera to persuading the music press he was selling rockstar sperm by the bottle. What Pettet is doing has a proud history – and the potential for huge success. I remember working with Damien Hirst and seeing from the off his instinct for a media frenzy.

The way Pettet made his point was a little heavy handed, perhaps – apparently part of the show included a video montage of talk show hosts discussing Pettet’s work – but I applaud his moxy. It’s no small thing to cut through the omnipresent popculture noise and grab the media in today’s multi-channel world. Pettet has proved what I’d half-convinced myself was impossible – the media are still shockable. The old-fashioned moral panics some of my heroes relied on are still achievable. Publicists across the land owe him a debt.

A Call for Calm

Whisper it. The real truth is, that the majority of the industry doesn’t give a damn about the text book-peddling, muttering commentariat.

Anyway, you’ll never remove splinters from my rear end. I’m not a fence sitter. Moreover, I don’t consider my contemporary offering as pure PR. Instead, let me praise someone working at the epicentre of a global news story. On Monday afternoon a superlative PR hoved into view, reminding the world what is great about British public relations. A precise man; direct, adroit, authoritative, elegant and effective. A safe pair of hands delivering leading communications in real time for his company.

Indulge my wish for a moment, whilst I contextualise Chris McLaughlin, the spokesman for the London-based satellite provider, Inmarsat.

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David Blaine: A lesson in purpose and passion

It took the urban dictionary to sum up the true definition of passion. It says:

“Passion is when you put more energy into something than is required to do it. It is more than just enthusiasm or excitement, passion is ambition that is materialised into action to put as much heart, mind, body and soul into something as is possible.”


Passion was the theme of last week. I spent most of mine with David Blaine. There are many adjectives that sum up David and passion is certainly one of them. This is a man who is wholly dedicated to his craft. There have been many impostors along the way, and yet Blaine does not let any of them derail his vision. Ultimately he knows others will not venture beyond his extremes.

David Blaine was only four years old when a magician on the New York subway sparked his passion. His lifetime since has been spent honing his craft. That he is an innovator is undisputed. His magic operates on an uncommonly personal level. He took an age old skill and turned it into something unique. He started on the street which meant understanding enchantment and personalisation was vital above all. He leaves everyone in his wake in awe. Above all it is impossible not to be infected by his passion, the way he talks, his knowledge and unprecedented commitment.

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Journalist bites PR. Never explain, never complain.

Last Wednesday, the cuddly, credit card provider Mastercard ran into an alleged ‘PR fail’ storm when their PR agency mishandled and misjudged a bevy of journalists they were inviting to the Brit awards. Scribblers claim that, in exchange for entry to the event, they were asked by email to guarantee coverage, and were requested to keep to social media guidelines including using brand hashtags. Why the inane babble was thought important, is another discussion.

The first thing to say is that this is but a irritating itch, not a full blown brand ebola. Journalists may have ‘taken to Twitter’ to gloat over the misstep, but I can’t see anyone getting fired over a few tantrums. House PR, who sent the offending emails, have only ‘become the story’ for a tiny circle of media old wives. The man and woman from Kettering hasn’t the faintest idea that any of this has happened. Mastercard’s logo still proudly enveloped the event like an amorphous boil.

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Let’s not be fooled by fashion and tamed by reason…

“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought” Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
Someone recently said to me “the more I read, the less I know”. Profound. In a world where technological advances were supposed to make life simpler, the reverse seems to reflect the truth.  The world is more complex, undefined, rushed. Decisions are taken without hesitation in the race to keep up with social channels and serendipity is increasingly a thing of the past, despite what we are repeatedly told. Serendipity requires time. The one thing we are very short of. And we seldom have a big idea anymore. Instead we have ‘notions; and a notion is but the teeniest of concepts.

The point is that big ideas add value to any business. Obvious. Yet many businesses regard ideas with suspicion. Real ideas have dimensions and are resilient and flexible. Outside of some connections, where ideas really spring from is unpredictable. The only thing for certain is, ideas don’t come when called! To get to them it is necessary to clear the mind. This requires a step away from technology and to look up and around, be curious and open minded. The opposite then, of the behaviour of most businesses. Try as they might, there is a fundamental problem with businesses trying to marry creativity and commerce! The trouble is for this to work, they have to lose the fear of making mistakes and this requires a step away from viewing situations in conventional terms and avoiding creating problems that don’t actually exist. This is a dynamic system we are dealing with and it poses some interesting questions.

2014 promises to be the year of wearable tech. CES in Vegas will show a smorgasbord of new and innovative ideas and the promise of the ultimate connected life for consumers. But does this mean that businesses will become more dependant on data driven decisions? Will there be a rush to keep up and grab the upward line of the adoption curve? And will this add to the burden and confusion? The trouble with data and technology is that they doesn’t allow for ambiguity – the very nature of human beings. Data has its value of course, but we must not become complacent and rely on it. Instead at Borkowski.do we are sticking our necks out and recommending the reverse.

A goodbye to allowing the data to decide and a warm welcome back to reflection, intuition and judgment!

After all, reflection, is key to producing quality decisions and the foundation block to build strong leaders.

But the speed of disruption is so intense, it is stripping away all confidence.

Let’s look up from the technology and proliferation of ‘information’ for a moment. Great leaps forward come from asking the right ‘big’ questions. That’s why we should start our thinking with NOT knowing any answers! Competitive companies will be those that offer products and services minutely shaped by the unique ideas and perspectives of every single one of their customers.  Companies that fail to grasp this new reality will ultimately be squeezed out of markets by those that do.

Experience, though of great value, all too often fails to change the world. We must embrace the great unknown, listen, reflect and fashion solutions that are unique. Let’s not be fooled by fashion, tamed by reason or trapped by experience, but work with clear and open mindedness.
That means celebrating people and ideas from wherever they come, rather than seeing things entirely from our own perspective, and developing a unique and clear point of difference.

Welcome to 2014. The Now Economy requires us to sit still, demand more time to think, reflect and innovate, to avoid making the same mistakes of the past few years.

The Borkowski Awards—notable 2013 PR moments

I don’t usually do awards ceremonies. I’d generally rather be making a new campaign than remembering the last one. However, as the end of the year finds Borkowski towers in a reflective mood, I thought I’d put together a brief collection of 2013’s standout PR moments—the ones that made us gasp with astonishment, and the ones that made us groan in horror.

Most gloriously over the top viral stunt

I’ve actually already blogged about this one [link: http://www.markborkowski.co.uk/supernatural-pr-fear-that-fans-can-love/] but it’s stuck with me. In order to promote the remake of classic teen-angst ‘em up Carrie, the movie’s PR team set up a hidden camera stunt to end all hidden camera stunts. A new York Cafe was rigged with booby traps, and an actor was planted at a table. Following an altercation with another “customer” (actually a stuntman), the actor appears to wreak havoc with her psychic powers, terrifying several genuine customers. A video of the event went viral.

In some ways, there was nothing groundbreaking about this, well-executed as it was. Still, as I acknowledged at the time, the team deserve huge props for finding a clever way to engage with movie audiences outside of the traditional press junket snore-machine.

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Addison Cresswell – a tribute.

Oh, the wretched topic of death, such a frustrating interloper, especially at Christmas, damn you. Alas, there is no point in pretending that we improve with age. In his colossal autobiography, Ben Hecht expressed the ageing process thus: “the years diminish us, time rots our body, cools our blood, darkens our brain, and, like a furtive embalmer, prepares our bodies for the winding sheet.” All too often, humans exit the process prematurely; on Saturday, the uber-agent, my old friend Addison Cresswell, checked out at the height of his power, just as Santa was coordinating the settings on his SatNav. Addi’s death was heartbreaking for his loved ones, sad for his legions of friends and acquaintances.

Bad news travels fast: Addison’s demise percolated through Facebook and Twitter like a ruptured reservoir of sadness. Folk etched moving epigraphs on a host of social sites, a community stunned into stupefaction. This unexpected shock unified the comedy universe, many finding solace celebrating his memory. Some were immobilised by a deepsense of loss; others recognised a more remarkable full stop to a significant chapter. These flickering chronologies passionately accumulated into a string of lyrical memoires about his largesse and contradictions.

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Less, but better, really is more.

Beyonce’s new iTunes record—the singer’s album broke a million sales in six days on Wednesday—should be a lesson not only to pop stars but to anyone with a message to get across. The singer released the album entirely without prior fanfare, tossing it onto iTunes with a casual insouciance.  It was a masterclass in cutting through the general PR melee and of course, a conscious purpose of control.

Beyonce’s people have said the release was all about talking directly to the fans without interference from the media. A fun idea, but not likely to be of much use to artists who’ve not had millions of dollars spent on their promotion over the years. The more important point to draw from it for PR pixies is how shouting loudly just doesn’t work any more. Nobody can hear!

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How Nigella will survive the wheels of fortune

The sorry tale of Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi should teach us some valuable lessons about the climate we operate in these days as businesses and brands. In this story we have a clear example of how a 24/7 news agenda fuels turbo charged and emotional reactions from the crowd – #teamnigella – and enough sympathy (for now at least) to skew any real perspective.

Not only that, but we also see how quickly brands are able to react to the idea of being written off. A skill that is becoming increasingly valuable in the furnace of media opprobrium. Kate Moss, BP, Ryan Air, Elton John, Virgin Trains and Twitter are all example of “brands” who have recovered from attack and moved on. The vicissitudes of the age did not crush these mass market icons. Why?

Well we are a “transmissive” society. Consumers don’t look up from the mesmeric power of their devices, so many are onto the next brand or story after they have erroneously dismissed the brand in trouble. In other words, we actually don’t enter into a dialogue. We don’t look up. We fail to discriminate in the moment as we digest the mass of information. This lack of consideration and reflection results in the transmission of undigested information. It’s a never ending circle for a moment or two. Then momentum changes…


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