Clark’s exit raises questions

The publisher's chair at The Globe and Mail is not equipped with an ejector button, although the abrupt departure of David Clark a couple of weeks ago may lead some to think otherwise.Certainly, by bailing out a little more than a...

The publisher’s chair at The Globe and Mail is not equipped with an ejector button, although the abrupt departure of David Clark a couple of weeks ago may lead some to think otherwise.

Certainly, by bailing out a little more than a year after taking over as publisher, Clark has raised questions about how the flagship title of the Thomson newspaper empire works, and whether a career in packaged goods is a good grounding for running a media property.

Nigel Pleasants, director of readership development at the Globe, is reassuring.

Pleasants says the broadsheet will not change its strategy, and for advertisers it is business as usual, but declines further comment on the Clark situation.

In a brief interview from the u.s., where he was on business, Globe President William Greenhalgh had nothing to say about Clark.

Greenhalgh referred a reporter’s questions to a press statement issued by Thomson Newspapers’ President Richard Harrington.

Media industry insiders have a number of ideas why Clark left the newspaper so suddenly, although all stop short of any elaborate conspiracy contrived to oust an executive about whom few have a bad word to say.

In fact, the argument goes, Clark may have been too ‘nice’ to succeed at a newspaper oftendescribed as insular and conservative.

He may have lost a ‘pleasant power struggle’ with Greenhalgh, as one source suggests, and come off second best after differences with Globe editor-in-chief William Thorsell, who was delivering a speech in an obscure resort town in Argentina when Clark departed.

A second media source says he believes Clark left the Globe because Thomson Newspapers wanted results ‘sooner, harder, faster’ than the former chief executive at Campbell Soup Company thought prudent to pursue.

The source also says he cannot imagine it was coincidence Clark left when he did, just ahead of Thomson’s decision to close Globe magazines Destinations and Body & Soul, throwing 22 people out of work.

Shortly after that, Edwin O’Dacre, the Globe’s director of magazine publishing and publisher of The Financial Times of Canada, announced he was leaving after 27 years at the Globe.

Several sources recall Clark, while president and chief executive officer at the Campbell Soup Company in Toronto, went to bat for the company’s manufacturing plants in Canada when the u.s. parent wanted to close them down and consolidate production in the u.s.

A third media source agrees Clark’s approach and that of Thomson Newspapers were out of sync.

Clark, says this source, was rather more interested in ‘people and process’ than the bottom line, a constant consideration of the newspaper giant which, on the heels of Clark’s leaving, announced it had an operating profit of $99 million for the nine months ending Sept. 30.

A further factor in Clark’s departure may have been his relations with the Globe’s advertising staff, a group one media insider depicts in less than favorable terms.

Another media insider agrees with the first’s assessment of the Globe’s ad sales staff, fingering their union as the culprit.

He says whenever there is any turnover at the Globe, seniority prevails, and dynamic, but less senior, staff are the first to go.

Opinion is scattered on whether a packaged goods background is the right one for taking over and running a media property.

Richard Peddie, who traded a successful career in packaged goods for the job as president and ceo of Toronto’s SkyDome, is ‘absolutely convinced’ a packaged goods marketer can make the change, but says it ‘takes a certain type’ to do it.

Peddie suggests a packaged goods marketer might be a better fit at The Financial Post or The Toronto Sun – both tabloids – because they have more of a ‘pop mentality.’

‘No continuity’

Peddie, who knows and likes Clark, says the Globe job would be the toughest for a packaged goods marketer because, among other things, ‘there’s no continuity at the top.’

He says changes to a corporate culture take time, admitting his first year at SkyDome was a lot of slogging.

He suggests it takes four years for any sort of turnaround.

Guy Letourneau, who took over as vice-president of marketing at Montreal-based cable service Reseau des sports Nov. 1, has a packaged goods background.

Letourneau thinks the lessons learned in packaged goods are a definite asset when running a media property since those marketers who do switch have had to compete in the toughest market of all.

He says packaged goods marketers bring with them intensity, an analytical approach, an understanding of competition, and an understanding of the consumer.

But, he says, ’50% to 60% of the game is already won if you love the product.’

Greenhalgh, a nuclear engineer by training, is not sure what prepares a person for a career in newspapers.

‘I don’t know what the right training is,’ says Greenhalgh, who worked at Britain’s then highly controversial Aldermaston nuclear weapons research establishment before coming to Canada.

After all, he says, newspapers are not like any other product, and have to deal with not one, but two, sets of customers – readers and advertisers.