INM hopes every little bit of retail savvy will help

Chief executive will further change media group’s business philosophy

In Robert Pitt, INM has found a chief executive who is free of newspaper industry baggage.

In Robert Pitt, INM has found a chief executive who is free of newspaper industry baggage.

Wed, Jul 16, 2014, 01:00

After a “thorough” search for a new chief executive, Independent News & Media has chosen a supermarket executive to help it make money from its own conveyor belt of news-flavoured goods.

Robert Pitt, the man who helped establish Lidl in Ireland, is swapping juice for journalism and toilet roll for tabloids. As far as the digital evolution of INM’s flagship newspapers are concerned, this left-field appointment has a certain logic.

Mid-life crisis

Pitt’s recent career has been at Tesco, a mid-market retailer said to be in the throes of a mid-life crisis.

Meanwhile, the entire newspaper industry’s business model is on crisis-watch: How to make news pay in the digital era? Answers on a downloadable postcard.

Pitt will likely bring some ideas with him when he takes up his post, and the key part of INM’s statement is almost certainly its reference to his “change management” skills.

Smaller

The group is much smaller than it was at the peak of the O’Reilly empire.

But while INM has plans to cut its operating costs by a further €20 million, retreat is not its only strategy. It has also focused on building its online audience, and digital ad revenues were running up 18 per cent at the last count.

It has, for the moment, backed away from a web paywall and opted instead to pump out links and collect advertising revenues from the clicks. Stack them high, sell them for whatever rates you can get.

So far, so supermarket. In Pitt, it has found a chief executive who is free of newspaper industry baggage and has youth and a different kind of commercial experience on his side.

The former Tesco man had some advice for graduates in an interview with The Irish Times in 2012 that may be of interest to INM staff.

“Don’t be afraid to try something new. Just make sure you work. You need to show a work ethic, put your head down and work hard.”

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