’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