Beatty, left succeeds Davidson as Northcliffe’s managing director
Northcliffe editors and journalists were in shock this week as they learned that managing director Alec Davidson had abruptly resigned to be replaced by Associated Newspapers New Media boss Kevin Beatty.
The news came immediately after a new set of sales figures for the first half of this year which shows a number of the group’s regional evenings having serious downturns.
Beatty, 43, is known to be red hot on sales. He began his career at the Belfast Telegraph in 1978 in circulation and before he went into top management had executive sales and commercial posts on regional newspapers.
But Daily Mail and General Trust, Northcliffe’s parent company, is also thought to want to change the culture of its regional group. Finance director Peter Williams has talked of a "a new vision coming through".
Beatty’s appointment signals closer links in the future between Associated and Northcliffe. Davidson was appointed from within Northcliffe, for whom he had worked since 1984.
A fact-finding report into the shape Northcliffe was in to face the future – commissioned by Davidson and written by three of the group’s managing directors – is believed to have revealed discontent at some of the centres. Some of his supporters feel the report, called the Romans Report, was unfairly used against him by DMGT.
Beatty’s new job marks him out for further promotion. He is already a favourite of Associated management, having been poached by managing director Murdoch MacLennan in 1986 from the Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail, where he was managing director. At Associated he has been managing director of The Mail on Sunday and the Evening Standard, where he took on extra responsibility for Metro, and has been chief operating officer of Associated’s new media division for the past 15 months.
On Monday afternoon he moved immediately to Northcliffe’s London headquarters in St John Street to meet chairman Ian Park and other directors.
With the group’s sales one of his key priorities, he is to begin visiting Northcliffe titles all over the country in the next few weeks, listening to local management and picking up ideas that he believes have merit.
Regional newspapers have been migrating out of bulks. Davidson, the immediate past president of the Newspaper Society, said only last week, when ABC issued the January-June circulation figures, that his group had progressively reduced bulks down to a maximum of 2 per cent on daily sales. Bulks should not be relied on to boost a title’s overall figures, he said, adding: "It is important we continue to strive for totally transparent and clean circulation figures."
Some of Northcliffe’s big losers in the ABCs were The Sentinel, Stoke, down 7.3 per cent, the Express & Echo, Exeter, down 7.5 per cent, and the Evening Herald, Plymouth, which dropped 10.8 per cent.
Beatty said he was excited about his new job, even though it was unusual for a national newspaper top executive to switch back to regionals. "If you look at what I have been doing over the past five years, there is no better company in which to learn," he told Press Gazette. "I have a done a national Sunday, an evening newspaper in London, been involved in the exciting launch of a national free daily and then digital media."