’So you’re doing the Rottweiler are you?’ was the first response I got to questions about Express Newspapers commercial director Paul Woolfenden.

’So you’re doing the Rottweiler are you?’ was the first response I

got to questions about Express Newspapers commercial director Paul


The second included words like aggressive, volatile and difficult.

Practically nothing the third person said was printable, unless the

editor of Marketing likes prison food, and another launched a stream of

bile that would not have been out of place in The Exorcist.

Gosh, I was looking forward to speaking to him.

The 44-year-old Northerner charged with the unenviable task of reviving

the fortunes of the Daily and Sunday Express parted company with his

second ad agency in eight months last week (Marketing, December 3).

Within two days of becoming marketing director for the Express group in

April, Woolfenden had fired Lowe Howard-Spink and handed the business to

Leo Burnett, which had worked for the group for 16 years and handled the

Daily Star since 1988. Until last week, that is. ’I can’t believe he’s

done it again,’ remarks an industry source. ’Ah, that’s just what the

Express needs - consistency,’ snipes another.

At face value, the move fits in with the Woolfenden-as-ogre line his

detractors are keen to reel out, but details of last week’s divorce are

less clear cut. Did the agency resign or was it sacked? Woolfenden’s

answer is, effectively, neither: ’What can I say? We genuinely asked

them to repitch,’ he responds. Leo Burnett declined, as did Fallon

McElligott, which leaves Young & Rubicam, RPM3 and St Luke’s to fight it


Woolfenden refutes reports of a rift between marketing, which wanted a

brand campaign, and editorial, which favoured a content-led


’I phoned Rosie (Boycott, the editor) this morning to tell her there was

a rift between us,’ he jokes. ’There was no debate, let alone a


We have looked at a branding campaign and asked ourselves what impact it

had. Unless you have an Orange or One 2 One-type budget, I am not sure

how much you can achieve. We need to promote and create sales.’

Woolfenden points out that a branding campaign is hard to justify when

the Daily Mail comes out with a promotion like Lucky Wallets and puts on

200,000 sales. He adds that branding campaigns may be used tactically in

future, which sounds like a contradiction in terms, and that the Express

is confident it can project an image through its promotions. ’The

promotions we do will say something about us,’ he says.

Perhaps it was a different Paul Woolfenden I spoke to, but the man on

the phone seemed to have little in common with the fellow described by

his detractors. When pressed on the falling out with Leo Burnett he

says: ’It could have been my fault, perhaps they needed more TLC, but

the decision to review was made by the board, it wasn’t personal.’ He

recalls his relationship with J Walter Thompson when he was at the

Telegraph as being intense.

’I can be a very hard client and, yeah, I am tough, but I am also loyal.

We had our difficulties, but we worked through them; they changed and we

changed,’ he says, sounding ever less ferocious.

An ad man of 11 years’ standing with Young & Rubicam, Arc and Saatchi &

Saatchi, Woolfenden became a newspaper man in 1992, when he was

appointed promotions manager for Times Newspapers. He left in June 1995

and, after a six-month sojourn at marketing and sales promotion agency

Firecrest, joined Telegraph Newspapers as promotions director. He was

promoted to his current position at the Express after just five months

in the marketing director’s chair.

Woolfenden seems sanguine about the attacks of his critics, even though

some of the comments are of a highly personal nature. He seems to accept

that national newspapers will always have demanding relationships with

their agencies, which will leave some bruised by the experience.

’I’d be surprised if there wasn’t negative comment about me,’ he adds.

’You can’t please everyone all the time, especially in this job.

Newspapers are an aggressive business, sales people are aggressive,

marketing people are aggressive. I don’t think that I am any more or any

less aggressive than anyone else in my position.

I can be autocratic, but democracy doesn’t work in newspapers - you have

to make decisions fast.

And in promotions particularly you get put in a position where it can be

difficult not to upset people.

’When I first started (in newspapers) I wanted to be liked and accepted

by everyone. That was a mistake because it is just not possible,’ he




Account director, Arc Advertising


Account director, Young & Rubicam


Promotions manager, Times Newspapers


Promotions director, Telegraph Newspapers


Marketing director, Express Newspapers


Commercial director, Express Newspapers


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