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Sep 21, 2011

Leaked: News Ltd bites the dust

News Limited will change its name in an attempt to cure its perception as an "arrogant newspaper company" that is "difficult to deal with". Crikey has exclusively obtained the leaked documents.

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News Limited will change its name in an attempt to cure its perception as an “arrogant newspaper company” that is “difficult to deal with”.

In a secret 86-page advertising pitch brief obtained by Crikey, the Australian arm of Rupert Murdoch’s global empire — to be rebranded “News Australia” — reveals its plans for a local resurrection under the code name “Project Darwin”.

Crikey understands the PowerPoint presentation by News marketing director Michael Nearhos, dated September 15, was sent to several people in at least three advertising agencies. It states News’ public image needs rehabilitation because its “culture and values” have never been properly aired. The News Limited brand was “largely invisible” to consumers and customers.

News Australia will publicly launch the new name in February, with artwork required by November 28. A mock-up is presented for “illustrative purposes”.

The wide-ranging treasure trove also reveals News will launch an “Australian digital pass” across all its mastheads beginning in November when The Australian and portions of the tabloids start to be locked down. One log-in would provide access to all of News’ Australian sites with the possibility of an overarching paid content aggregator. Previously, the company had provided no detail on its paywall strategy.

The News Australia project will be implemented by its “key spokesperson and advocate”, News CEO John Hartigan. Head spin doctor Greg Baxter will handle “comms”, with fellow executives Ed Smith and Tony Kendall also listed as linchpins. Hartigan will embark on a capital city roadshow in November to talk “strategy and change” with staff before the official public announcement.

While News Limited’s “contentious” corporate logo will be retained, Nearhos says that “we need to look at ways to refresh and contemporise this device”. He suggests creatives consider “dimensionalising” the company’s image.

The elaborate strategy comes just weeks after News announced a hiring freeze as part of a plan to cut costs by 20% over the next three years.

The jargon-loaded presentation features phrases such as “sizzle reel”, the “connectivity of niche” and “visual language for employee engagement initiatives”, and bemoans News’ subsidiary status compared to internal mastheads and global brands Nike, General Electric and IBM.

News execs were asked to position the firm within the “Pearson Archetypal system”, a branding exercise that assigns an organisation a personality “type”. While News itself doesn’t fall into a specific type, the document notes that the “Creator” (Martha Stewart, Crayola) and “Explorer” (Amelia Earhart, Starbucks) archetypes “have appeal”.

According to the implementation timeline, the vast majority of the key documents flagging the transition were created after the News of the World phone-hacking scandal went nuclear in July. At the time, Hartigan was extremely keen to distance News’ local arm from the revelations, claiming that the abhorrent practices in the UK would never be repeated here. Hartigan also announced a review of News’ editorial spending conducted by former Victorian judges Frank Vincent and Bernard Teague.

The document features the fruits of an interview with Hartigan and 11 senior executives conducted by communications experts Edelman. The executives appear concerned that News’ self-identified audience of “Middle Australia” fails to align with “prestige” trade audiences. Under a heading “We’re middle Australia”, they leave no doubt that they perceive News to be popular with the masses.

“We reflect and fight for the values of Middle Australia … as a result we can deliver this audience to our advertisers,” the executives reckon. The “community” is championed: “we advocate for the fair go and we challenge, question, and probe on behalf of the community. We actively seek to hold authority to account on behalf of the community, as we have from our earliest days.”

But the news isn’t all good for News, with the actions of some employees and divisions chafing with the company’s “espoused values”.

“Research revealed some misalignment with espoused and enacted values. It also suggested that any existing value statements were often disconnected from the company or brands and were not well communicated,” the document states.

A list of “hot topics” for implementation include accountability, standing up for consumers, accuracy, owning up to mistakes, and environmental, sustainability issues.

Internally, the News Limited sales structure is depicted as a siloed schemozzle, with “national brands activity … unstructured and managed ad-hoc by mastheads and online brand teams”. A solution is provided by the hiring of a “national brand manager”. Other media companies including Seven, Nine and Fairfax have centralised sales teams that News sadly lacks. As a result “News is seen as slow and difficult to deal with”.

News also includes a full and frank “threat assessment” of the strengths and weaknesses of its rivals. Seven is sledged for not having a national newspaper offer while one of Nine’s strengths is apparently “David Gyngell”. News says Fairfax has “instability in its exec teams” and was “slow with iPad apps”.

But its self-assessment is just as swingeing. While News is a “global media company” with “intelligence and insights”, it has “no consistent trade position” and “continue[s] to have poor implementation of big ideas”.

Several negative corporate perceptions persist — News is “still in silos”, is “arrogant and difficult to deal with” and newspapers “are the least innovative out of all the media platforms”.

The company may have “mass audiences” but there was “too much wastage in newspapers.” News, some industry players thought, was “yet to unleash the power of its combined platform strength”. Sadly, Hartigan’s baby was considered “the last of the major players to get integration right”.

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52 comments

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52 thoughts on “Leaked: News Ltd bites the dust

  1. Venise Alstergren

    Operation Darwin or Hang out your Washing on the Brisbane Line?

  2. Jonathan Brown

    Interesting story. A little misleading on the headline, but hey – am sure it generated 1000s more clicks!

    Mr Crook,
    On an unrelated issue, I’ve been patiently staying “tuned” on the Splendour issue but yet to see anything more from Crikey. Did your further investigation suggest there is nothing in many of the claims and theories you asserted in the article on August 5?
    If so, will you be publishing an apology/retraction?
    If they did, when do you think you’ll publish an update with more info? I’m v. interested.

    Apologies for using sentence fragments. I hope you can still understand the meaning of this message.

    Cheers
    JB

  3. Michael

    The envy from Fairfax & ABC subscribers to Crikey is palpable.
    But much as you hate & much as you all wish the worst for News Ltd at some point you will need to accept that News Ltd will blossom whilst you perish. Not because News deserves to but because you are all so mediocre!

  4. norman mccormick

    The most obvious problem in seeking to rename “News Ltd.” is not that it is a misnomer but like the Country Party using National its reach exceeds its grasp.

    Opinion is not news and some of us still know the difference.A slippery slope awaits supposed journalism which sees each days events through a prism of Ruperts or the present editors conceptions or wishes.

    “Opinions Ltd” or to be frank ” Limited Opinions Ltd” would be apt.

  5. jeebus

    “We’re Middle Australia”, is their answer to the widespread perception of arrogance? Hahaha!

    No, you’re not middle Australia you bunch of delusional liars. You’re a corporatist propaganda organ that represents the international business interests of the Murdoch family.

    The nature of what you are is not going to change by hiring a bunch of market w**kers. Rebranding yourselves won’t fix the growing toxicity of your brand, and might actually amplify it.

    Reason being, every time a public figure like John Stewart publicizes the lies of Fox News, every time another juicy nugget of corruption pops out of the News International investigation, the News brand is damaged. The fact that most people have no idea that IGN or Vogue are part of the News octopus actually protects those businesses from collateral damage.

    I dare you to group all of your sites under one banner. It will make it much easier for the growing number of people like me to avoid accidentally visiting, subscribing to, or financially supporting any News Corporation entity!

  6. LJG..............

    ” its “culture and values” have never been properly aired”… I wondered what that smell was.. a silent but deadly…

  7. Michael

    @Meski
    Mate are you kidding? This is Crikey – Labor country.
    If you don’t tow party line, you’re gagged, handcuffed & taken to interrogation.
    Free flow of ideas ceased when Mayne sold & Gulag Rear Admiral Beecher took over.

  8. Meski

    The one about polishing merde? Probably a nervous editor.

    Moderators? A request. If you do remove stuff, that’s ok, but its good internet etiquette to leave some kind of note there to the effect that you have, and why. Akin to when you fix a typo in the article to use a strikethru on the original error, rather than make it appear that there was never an error.

  9. Lord Barry Bonkton

    WOW , someone’s hacked in to crikey and removed my comment ?

  10. The_roth

    10 points @ Edward James Not Applicable is perfect and you coined it first!

  11. klewso

    The new emblem? Those magnified images of a blow fly’s eye?

  12. Edward James

    @ The_roth I am sure they don’t like Limited News as it is too close to home. Another beauty I recall… “Is that the truth, or did you read it in the Telly?” Tom McLoughlin has published some instructive chalk graphics gathered from the footpaths of Holt Street sydney, which I have no doubt many activist are familar with. Edward James

  13. Edward James

    @FFC & Bellistner

    What about adding an “n”= Australian / Fringe dewellers have rights
    to shenanigans too!
    News Australia, may be identifed saying “NA” more often when questioned.
    Edward James

  14. The_roth

    I just don’t think they like being called Limited News.

  15. guytaur

    A very old saying applies here in regard to News Limited to Australia label.

    “Leopards don’t change their Spots”.

  16. rael162

    Oh Yeah, bringing U.S. imperialism right into our middle class homes. The only gravitas I’ve ever seen from this organisation best resembles cat sh_t! It doesn’t matter how its content is nuanced. It’ll still be CAT SH_T to me!!

  17. Bellistner

    FFC said:

    Damn!

    newsaustralia.com.au
    newsaustralia.net.au
    newsaustralia.com
    newsaustralia.net
    newsaustralia.org
    newsaustralia.mobi

    are all already registered. If not, could have had some shenanigans!

    co.nz and .org.au are still available. .it. and .tv are spoken for as well.

    The WHOIS on .com is interesting:

    WHOIS information for newsaustralia.com :

    [Querying whois.verisign-grs.com]
    [Redirected to whois.iregistry.com]
    [Querying whois.iregistry.com]
    [whois.iregistry.com]
    Registrant:
    Name Administration Inc. (BVI)
    Box 10518 A.P.O.
    Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands B.W.I.
    KY

    Domain name: NEWSAUSTRALIA.COM

    Administrative Contact:
    Domain, Administrator admin@nameadmininc.com
    Box 10518 A.P.O.
    Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands B.W.I.
    KY
    +1.345.946.6879

    Technical Contact:
    Domain, Administrator admin@nameadmininc.com
    Box 10518 A.P.O.
    Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands B.W.I.
    KY
    +1.3459466879

    Registrar of Record: iRegistry
    Record last updated on 17-Feb-2011.
    Record expires on 23-Jul-2014.
    Record created on 23-Jul-2001.

    Domain servers in listed order:
    NS2.HOSTINGNET.COM
    NS1.HOSTINGNET.COM

    Domain status: clientDeleteProhibited
    clientTransferProhibited
    clientUpdateProhibited

    INQUIRE ON THIS DOMAIN at PROFORMAINC.COM or call 800-385-8489

    Emphasis added.

    .net (2003) and .org (2003) is owned by some bloke in WA, .com.au (2011) is held by NSI Holdings P/L ACN 128 421 250, .net.au is held by David Hamann (2011).

    Big Harto might have to shell out some Big Bucks to aquire the names, now that it’s out in the open.

  18. Tom McLoughlin

    I regret using the word fatuous, more like grasping. It is actually a very strategic and effective branding manouvre, to leverage that gravitas as someone above mentioned.

    As for Mythbusters, they in fact proved you can polish a turd, but it still stinks.

  19. Misreported

    “Hate Media Australia” gets my vote.

  20. AR

    jargon-loaded presentation is beyond parody – as you sure that the “leaked doc”/whole thing isn’t a joke? Like all Mudorc “newspapers”?

  21. klewso

    They’ll always be the Limited News Party.
    (Lord Barry – a limit to hacking?)

  22. CHRISTOPHER DUNNE

    “Pulp Fiction” is already taken, sadly.

  23. Margaret Kerr

    Agree with Meski. Why are they allowed to call a newspaper “The Australian”? That gives their partisan rag a totally undeserved gravitas and legitimacy.

  24. FFC

    Damn!

    newsaustralia.com.au
    newsaustralia.net.au
    newsaustralia.com
    newsaustralia.net
    newsaustralia.org
    newsaustralia.mobi

    are all already registered. If not, could have had some shenanigans!

  25. lance boyle

    [Anyone with me on a class action? I don’t want News Ltd using the word Australian in their company name. It’s bad enough having it as one of their papers.]

    Yep, I will sign up for that as long as we can also stop them using the word ‘news’, as well; when what they predominately produce is closer to fiction.

  26. beachcomber

    Change the name. That will stop the hacking. Not.

  27. drmick

    The big question is the name change because they want the Liberal party how to vote pamphlet (currently known as the Australian) to run at a profit, or are they going to continue to rubbish our country by death riding good news regarding the economy the same way they have rubbished everything else until knuckle-head gets in to finish the job?

  28. EKDV

    “News Australia: Staying Classy Since 2012”

  29. John Bennetts

    World News Australia is a banner used by SBS.

    Question: Will SBS be as pig-headed about use of this phrase as they were with Crikey a few years back re use of the phrase “world game”?

  30. John Bennetts

    Project Darwin…

    A crocodile on every front cover?

    Is News Ltd’s NT daily an indication of future directions?

  31. Michael

    Ooooh you guys are going to be in so much trouble over this. News will not be happy campers.
    Hope you have good lawyers.

  32. Holden Back

    Anyone done a websearch yet? Have they done all the necessary territory stakeouts?

  33. Meski

    Anyone with me on a class action? I don’t want News Ltd using the word Australian in their company name. It’s bad enough having it as one of their papers.

  34. Tom McLoughlin

    I would say this is another step in the fatuous tradition of annexing the English language to corporate control. Think the rebranding of various institutions by what they do or wish they did, probably exclusively – Environment Australia, Environment NSW, Australia Institute, Australian Government, etc etc.

    Here we have News Australia as the wholistic brand in order to annexe the intellectual property in that form of words. Look out, we will be seeing defensive trade mark wars over the use of the words Australia and News sooner or later.

    It also echoes another branding evolution case study – Forest Protection Society – an astro turf logging industry entity which changed (under legal threat?) it’s name to Timber Communities Australia. The first name surely was a breach of fair trading legislation for being misleading and deceptive in their trade of nick nacks and printed material, with their real business, to poision the science and public policy on forest landscapes.

    That’s a pretty reasonable parallel to News Ltd poisoning the information well and now seeking to rebrand accordingly when the public consciousness catches up with the reality. As Jonathan Holmes pointed out last week on Media Watch – unbalanced reporting is misdescribed as “news” and should be shunned in the market place as bad business practice. The media inquiry should remove the exemption for big media advertising corporations engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct. Exhibit One might be Andrew Clennell’s clanger on same Media Watch programme via, of cours, The (Sydney) Daily Telegraph.

  35. Holden Back

    Look- she’s got a new hat!

  36. Mark from Melbourne

    Name change – a frequent last resort of management that lacks any real business acumen.

  37. Malcolm Street

    “The jargon-loaded presentation features phrases such as “sizzle reel”, the “connectivity of niche” and “visual language for employee engagement initiatives”, ”

    “News execs were asked to position the firm within the “Pearson Archetypal system”, a branding exercise that assigns an organisation a personality “type”. While News itself doesn’t fall into a specific type, the document notes that the “Creator” (Martha Stewart, Crayola) and “Explorer” (Amelia Earhart, Starbucks) archetypes “have appeal”.”

    OMFG, what a wank!!! This is like something out of Dilbert, or perhaps someone’s been reading a future script for The Office.

    “We reflect and fight for the values of Middle Australia … as a result we can deliver this audience to our advertisers,” the executives reckon. The “community” is championed: “we advocate for the fair go and we challenge, question, and probe on behalf of the community. We actively seek to hold authority to account on behalf of the community, as we have from our earliest days.”

    No, you propagandise your values across your media range, including newspaper monopolies in several cities and claim they are those of Middle Australia. The only fair go you advocate is that of News Limited. And one authority you’ll never take to account is your own obscene dominance of Australian news media.

    “A list of “hot topics” for implementation include accountability, standing up for consumers, accuracy, owning up to mistakes, and environmental, sustainability issues.”

    So can we expect more balanced coverage of climate change? Pigs might fly…

    Speaking of pigs, this looks like an up-market exercise in applying lipstick to same.

  38. monkeywrench

    If they could address the systemic Right-wing bias, they might be taken seriously. Otherwise its the same old.

  39. rubiginosa

    This is good news for female grocery buyers.

  40. Bill Hilliger

    Different tree – same monkeys!

  41. Peter Bayley

    Interesting how ingrained the corporate belief has become that it is only the “Seemingness” that matters and not at all the Reality. If you are having problems because you are perceived negatively, don’t try and fix the cause. Instead, slip into a brand new outfit and continue spinning the synthetic love. Reminds me of endless rebrandings of Chemical and Pharmaceutical companies – Oh yes! and Labor and Liberal Pty Ltd. Oh how little they think of us.

  42. Timehhh

    News Ltd’s public image troubles are not about the brand, they’re about the content and the conduct of senior employees across several big mastheads. A new logo iwon’t change perceptions if the behaviour doesn’t change.

    The attempt to integrate brands, sales and customer/billing relationships across different News Ltd businesses is interesting, though. It’ll require a whole bunch of changes to the way individual business units operate, but it is a major admission that the future of the company is online.

  43. SBH

    Operation Darwin? Classy. Still they shied away from (or perhaps just didn’t think of) calling it operation Hiroshima

  44. cicero

    How did Crikey obtain this document? I hope it was somehow hacked.

  45. drmick

    ? News Australia News? Australia ? News? Australia?

  46. Fred The Oyster

    Good catch, Andrew! The brand archetypes on pg. 33 adds some accidental humour – why is the “ego” side of the spectrum circled? And I’m pretty sure that Foxtel is not one of News Ltd.’s competitors (p. 43). The fascination with grocery buyers (if only female ones) across the target demographics is odd as well – a tacit admission that the newspaper has become a “Oh yeah, why not?” purchase rather than a necessity? Also note the “Bundle TV offer with Foxtel & Channel 10” on p. 47 – Lachlan strikes again?

    I would pose a discussion point on the thrust of the presentation – I have trouble believing that someone refuses to buy a paper because the branding is muddied; isn’t it more like that the audience has been lied to by said media outset so often that we can’t trust it anymore, as Mr. Denmore said far better than I could, and until that trust is rebuilt there’s no reason to go back to the well? Nor am I convinced that associating GQ, Vogue or getprice.com.au with the newspapers via the same branding is any good for those “modules”.

  47. anthony tan

    Meanwhile, in other News……

    “Dear Leader James Murdoch announced to an ecstatic staff briefing that News International, advised by Guiding Light of the Fatherland Chris Mitchell, had underaken a searching self-appraisal and would relocate its values.
    Henceforth News International would be Nuovo Patagonia. Staff will dress in stylish black. (No suede.)
    An inaugural cruise for all staff will leave Southahmpton tomorrow at 8am. All staff are invited and should join the General Belgrano by 7am. Drinks will be served immediately.
    It is understood that Lord Rupert will accompany the cruise (from a discreet distance) aboard Rosehearty.”

  48. rhwombat

    Man(ne)kind 1: Murdoch 0

  49. Edward James

    Would Crikey.com please consider running a competion seeking varations on their new masthead News Australia?
    Who else will miss being able to write Limited News knowing it identifes the same corporation? Edward James

  50. paddy

    Damn it Crikey.
    Just sprayed coffee everywhere.
    For one glorious moment there, I thought you’d written…..
    “News Ltd wins Darwin award”. 😀

    Never mind….. The year’s not over yet. 😎

  51. Bellistner

    If News thinks it represents ‘Middle Australia’ and is popular with such, I’ve got a piece of land in Manhattan to sell them.

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