Community News
Gorkana meets...London Evening Standard
5 October 2012

At a recent Gorkana breakfast briefing Evening Standard group managing editor Doug Wills; digital managing director Zach Leonard; deputy editor Charlotte Ross; and Andrew Barker, ES Magazine editor; helped PRs get under the skin of the free evening newspaper and its digital offering.

Doug Wills, managing editor

Doug stared his career as a reporter, sub-editor and chief sub editor, first joining the Evening Standard when it was based in Fleet Street. The Standard has been a part of London for more than a century and, while the paper has gone though many changes over the years, the most significant change happened more than three years ago when the paper went free.

Despite being free it has remained a quality publication. While many thought this would not be sustainable, this has been proven wrong, with the paper winning many awards including newspaper of the year. The paper has top journalists working on the team including political editor Joe Murphy, who is regularly in contact with the Prime Minister and various heads of states. Doug also mentioned transport correspondent Dick Murray, who usually knows what’s going on with London Underground before Transport for London.

The paper hold its daily news conference at 8am - the news editor and picture editor will have been in the office for hours - and figures for the pick up on the print paper from the day before will come in around this time. Yesterday’s (04.10.12) came in at 713,000 copies which translates into more than two million print readers.

Zach Leonard, digital managing director

Before working for the Evening Standard/Independent group, Zach spent several years at the Financial Times and News International. Zach believes that the audience and influence that exists in the print paper provides a great opportunity to expand onto digital platforms.

There is now an app for the newspaper and ES Magazine and the digital offer is continuously being improved.

Zach's role fuses four key areas; technology, journalism, audience and advertising. Striking the balance is key to his role. It all starts with the intellectual property which the journalists provide. Without it, the rest can’t follow.

Customer engagement is very important for the team. They currently have a platform called Gigio, which allows users to comment and campaign on the site. Sentiment indicators are really important and platforms like Twitter and Facebook are now necessary to push out content. The Evening Standard website is currently viewed by between three to four million people and Zach believes this will double in the next 12 months.

Campaigns

Campaigns have been at the heart of the newspaper for many years. They are mostly driven by events, the current focus or concerns of Londoners. They tend to be triggered by news stories, for example, David Cohen's piece exposing the level of poverty in London, particularly the number of pauper graves, led to the Dispossessed Fund which has raised £10 million to date. Other similar campaigns have included Get London Reading, with the team working with a charity and gaining interest from leading politicians, celebrities and royals, and the Apprentices campaign, which is encouraging companies to employ school/university leavers.

If a campaign is not about issues on the London street, they won’t work for the paper. Doug welcomed ideas from PRs and encouraged them to pitch ideas. The best person to contact with ideas is campaigns editor, David Cohen.

Charlotte Ross, deputy editor

Charlotte is one of two deputy editors on the Evening Standard, the other being Ian Walker, who covers news and business. Charlotte looks after features and online. She has been at the Standard for around six years and prior to that was at Nat Mags, The Scotsman and The Sunday Herald.

The website was redesigned and relaunched in March, the first time it had had a major refresh in five years. It took more than a year to complete and is now "far more vibrant and visual". While before it was very newscentric, it now reflects the "lives and variety of London far more accurately".

The site feature a strong mix of news, lifestyle, arts, parties and sport. Visual galleries on news websites drive huge amounts of traffic and the team has improved the visual side of the site.

The new site has also given the team the opportunity to develop original material. Rather than just being a representation of the newspaper online, there is now greater opportunity to break news first. Big stories are no longer held back for the paper. The day has been extended from the usual nine to five coverage, and the site reflects the 24/7 nature of the city.

Live blogs for big events in the city like Prime Minister’s Questions or the Olympics opening or closing story are also part of the new site. There is a daily live blog called Capital Live, where people in the Evening Standard office blog about anything from commuting to events or funny things happening in the city.

Charlotte said one of the popular parts of the site is the Going Out section - it is as important to Londoners as their jobs. The site now provides a more user-friendly way of browsing things like restaurants and theatres, while at the same time offering booking facilities. Things are still in the early stages, but it's a massive improvement and has inspired those who work at the paper to get far more involved, creating a much more integrated team. Food editor Victoria Stuart is the best contact for this section.

The website's address was also changed from thisislondon.co.uk to standard.co.uk. The old site was seen a guide to London, which was a distinct contrast to what the print paper was offering. The site was 10 years old so the move was a complex process. The team will also be launching m.standdard.co.uk providing a dedicated site for mobile users in the next few months.

Andrew Barker, ES Magazine

Andrew has worked on ES Magazine for five years, working under two editors before becoming editor 18 months ago. Andrew loves the fact that the magazine provides so much variety - "anything within reason" can be found in its pages.

He describes the magazine as "somewhere between a weekend supplement and a glossy magazine". Going out on a Friday also means that it is the first weekend supplement to get to readers. The magazine doesn't do blanket coverage, rather a "curated digestible collection of ideas" formatted in various ways from an in-depth feature to a Q&A.

Andrew says the whole magazine is PRable. The team is open to all ideas so it’s difficult to pinpoint what wouldn't work for them. It will always depend on the timing and the relevance of the idea. PRs should contact Andrew’s team with ideas - ideas are always discussed and an answer will come back pretty quickly letting you know if it works or not. The more developed a pitch, the better.

It is very important to know the sections of the paper and the magazine. Asking about an Easter supplement or Christmas gift guide, when the paper has never done them, is not a good idea. It’s also important to get to know who heads up each section and its best not to "pitch too high".

Exclusives

Exclusives are very important to the Standard. If the paper runs something, it will be out there first. The rest of the media tends to be very happy to follow on with the same story, as it's not regarded as chronological competition. A piece can run in the Standard on a Tuesday, on TV that evening, and on radio and the nationals the following morning.

If something has already been in the nationals, the team will not be interested, and because of this, embargos tend not to work.

While international stories are covered, they need to be major to make it into the print paper, as space is tight. Stories should always have a London backbone.

Lead times

Andrew said that ideas should be sent in as early as possible. If the idea is brilliant and needs a quick turnaround, the team can receive ideas as late as two weeks in advance, but it would have to be for something "very special".

The print paper has a shorter lead time for news and stories can be online very quickly.

Video and audio content is becoming more and more important. As well as the website, the ES Magazine app is able to include image galleries and videos, something that wasn't possible a year ago. Accepting external video content depends on what it is and it needs to fit with what readers will want.

Celebrities

ES Magazine is looking for celebrities who are willing to go beyond the 45-minute interview with photos attached. The further they are willing to push the boundaries, the more the magazine will be interested. Original and interesting photos are essential.

"More youthful" celebrities tend to resonate better with readers, but not always. They need to be fresh and not over-exposed in other titles throughout the year. "Short-term celebrities" like bloggers and tech types are also very popular, especially if ES can get that first interview.

Charlotte and Andrew have not answered a phone for about three years as they are so busy. Both have strong senior teams who should be contacted for pitches.

What's next?

The paper prides itself on not just being about London, but being about London’s take on the world. The Olympics was a huge example of this. But now what’s next? The legacy it leaves behind is going to be huge for London, both sporting and commercially. The third London runway (or lack of it) is going to be big in the news, as well as regenerating Battersea as a new Southbank.

The team has just touched on its digital capabilities, so watch this space.