AGENDA: Marketers could learn a good deal from the papers

In Evelyn Waugh’s hilarious novel, Scoop, journalism is wonderfully satirised, starting with the book’s premise - a naturalist called ’Boot’ is hired as a foreign correspondent by The Daily Beast. He is utterly unqualified, but has been mistaken for another Boot who is.

In Evelyn Waugh’s hilarious novel, Scoop, journalism is wonderfully

satirised, starting with the book’s premise - a naturalist called ’Boot’

is hired as a foreign correspondent by The Daily Beast. He is utterly

unqualified, but has been mistaken for another Boot who is.

I have seen things not much less ludicrous. One old acquaintance who

enjoyed a brief reign in the senior echelons of The Daily Mirror would

have made a perfect press megalomaniac had he held on to his job long

enough. One day when stalking the corridors he saw someone who reported

to him and asked, ’Have you got your passport?’ Upon being told ’No’, he

said, ’Never be without your passport. Go home and get it. Then take the

next plane to Rome and await my instructions’.

The dutiful young man did so - then spent a week waiting for

instructions that never came.

Being rude about newspapers is a little unfair when you look at some of

the nonsense that goes on in our own industry. Did you know, for

instance, that at Pepsi-Cola somebody holds the title ’head of


The fictional proprietor in Scoop, Lord Copper, was an amalgam of

Northcliffe and Beaverbrook, the great press lords of that era.

Northcliffe went mad, and I am surprised more people in the newspaper

industry don’t do the same. A good insight into Beaverbrook’s approach

was that he insisted on being referred to as the Chief Reader.

He knew a good proprietor should be a sort of surrogate and understand

what his readers wanted. This is the essence of marketing. He knew also

the importance of attention to detail. One of his rules (which a lot of

newspaper people appear to have forgotten) was always give the age of

whoever you are writing about, as people love to know how old other

people are. It is one of the first things one asks somebody else, unless

they are a woman, in which case you have to guess, the subject being of

such delicacy and importance.

It is the job of a good marketer to pay attention to such details,


One little gripe I have is to do with something a little like the matter

of age: running pictures without captions. If a picture is interesting,

we immediately wonder what it is all about. What is that building? Where

is that beach? How much does that car cost? What is that person


Apart from anything else, readership studies show that captions

generally attract more readers than any part of an advertisement except

the headline. This is not surprising. Quite apart from the matter of

natural curiosity, we learn to read as children by looking at pictures

with captions under them.

Does this strike you as a trifling thing unworthy of your strategic


Perhaps. But consider this: would you like more people to read your


This is one way to do so. And incidentally, it helps in evaluating

pictures. If a picture merits no caption, it can hardly be worth running

at all. Get another.

Drayton Bird runs the Drayton Bird Partnership.


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