Almost two years after taking over as chief executive of the embattled Daily Mirror publisher, Simon Fox tells Oliver Smith how his digital plan is paying off
After overseeing music retailer HMV’s slow death in the face of booming digital music downloads in the late 2000s, Simon Fox swapped his role as chief executive of one troubled business for another as he became boss of Trinity Mirror.
When Fox was announced as the newspaper group’s new chief executive in August 2012, Trinity’s shares were in the doldrums, hovering around 40p, down from around 600p in 2006 – before traditional newspaper publishers were slammed by the boom in online advertising.
Despite the daunting challenge, Fox has managed a dramatic feat. He has slowed the decline in Trinity’s revenues to 2.3 per cent over the past six months, down from four per cent in 2012, boosted digital revenues by 50 per cent in the past 26 weeks alone and launched a number of new online publications such as UsVsTh3m and Ampp3d, which boosted audiences 91 per cent to 61.3m monthly users over the past six months.
“It was key to grow our digital audience, and we’ve done that through investing and building up our capabilities,” says Fox. “And we’ve continued to make key new hires with Pete Picton recently joining us from The Mail, where he was deputy editor over at MailOnline. And James Wildman, who was managing director of Yahoo in the UK, has joined us as well. These moves make us a magnet for digital talent in the UK and then it’s just about investing in our products.”
While Fox doesn’t believe Trinity will ever become a digital-only business, he has made huge changes to mould Trinity into a digital-first publisher.
“It was a massive change in the way our newsrooms were organised, particularly in the regions. The reorganisation was called Newsroom 3.1 where all content would be created digital-first, and then the newspaper is created from that digitally-produced content.
That was a huge change, and one that required considerable training and, frankly, a big culture shift for our staff,” says Fox.
Despite the shift, Trinity continues to make over 80 per cent of its revenues from its traditional printed titles. Fox says that despite the sea-change in the publishing industry, he remains committed to Trinity’s traditional print publications.
“Print is still incredibly important to us. We know that the trends, as everyone does, and they are largely negative, but our actions are very much geared toward out-performing in this tough market,” says Fox.
“And The Mirror has out-performed, from a circulation perspective, for 26 of the last 30 months. I think that’s because it’s a brand that is in tune with the current mood of the nation.”
With yesterday’s announcement that Trinity will pay its first dividend since 2008, digital audiences booming and revenues from digital nearly offsetting print declines, the group’s share price continues to recover.
Trinity’s shares have now undergone an incredible 600 per cent jump from their 27p low in June 2012.
But Fox believes that Trinity’s turnaround still has further to go and now he’s gunning for the group to declare its first revenue growth since 2007 by the end of next year.
“We’re on a journey, and it’s not finished yet, but I’d certainly expect within a couple of years to have a business that’s back in growth.”