Opinion on Stanley Sydney Myerson is somewhat divided.
The group joint MD of Northern & Shell can easily punch his weight among media’s biggest bruisers. But when he wants to, he would also fit snugly into a list of the industry’s smoothest charmers.
“Though he might come across as being friendly and jolly, the reality can be vastly different from that,” said one agency source.
Another individual who has met Myerson described him as a shrewd operator – quite a compliment. A slightly less diplomatic person described him as “quite a character who’s prone to using unorthodox means to get results.”
Draw your own conclusions from the fact that none of these people wanted to put their names to these comments. After all, they have still got to do business with him.
And business for Myerson is managing an enviable portfolio of media brands – from the Daily Express and upwardly mobile Daily Star to a clutch of celebrity weeklies including OK! and Star .
Although his reputation is daunting, for our interview Myerson is anything but. Family photos adorn the office walls at his plush new office while he struts around chatting cheerily to staff.
And, for a company that is known more for cost cutting than expensive splurges, the firm’s ample new headquarters near
Myerson is the right-hand man of Richard Desmond – the
Myerson makes no attempt at an apology for how he may or may not be perceived and insists that it is all part of running a business.
“I think if you’re involved in your business on a day-to-day basis and you take what goes on in the business personally, then, yes, there will be moments in time when one might not be friendly and where one is actually quite difficult and tough,” he says.
“But that’s not a deliberate policy of trying to be awkward for the sake of being awkward, it’s part of reality and of business life.
“At the end of day, we’re a tough company and we run the business firmly, but we’re fair with all of our people and fair in our business dealings with everyone else.”
The recent controversial decision to charge all telephone callers to the head office is a case in point where the “tough company” image has shone through.
As agencies threw their arms up at the injustice of having to pay to do business, the company stood firm, claiming it to be legitimate business practice.
Some have threatened never to call the Express again, but they will not get any sympathy from Myerson, who is totally unrepentant about the move.
“They’re not premiumand are only slightly more expensive,” he says. Describing the changeover as “about as momentous as Northcliffe cutting their commission”, Myerson adds: “There are a few agencies, not all that many, who have elected to deal with us only by e-mail.
“And, as I said to one of the press directors, I quite actually enjoy that, because I get copied in on all negotiations and, quite honestly, that’s fine. If people want to deal with us by e-mail, that’s fine, we can call them back, it’s not a huge problem.”
Another cost-cutting decision by the Express Group that sent ripples through the industry, particularly among regional agencies, was the closure of the
Myerson explains: “When we took over the Express group in 2000, the revenue flow in
Now operating from
The generic “we” gets used a lot when Myerson talks about the Express and he asserts that, far from being a remote operation, senior management meet three times a week.
Staying on top of the game
“I think we are unique,” says Myerson. “Our board of directors is a very close one and when we meet we cover all aspects of our business and we’re all involved in that dialogue – that makes us a strong team. We know exactly what’s going on, we’re all involved in the decisions that relate to all of those areas and it enables us to drive the business forward.”
In September in a feature about media bruisers, Media Week chose Desmond ahead of Myerson on the grounds that Desmond’s surreal qualities made him less predictable and harder to deal with.
Not disappointed with missing out on this particular title, he laughs: “I’m pleased to see that my chairman is so highly rated in this area. In my view, the markets are extremely competitive, no one’s going to help you succeed today and I think one has to be driven and totally focused.”
Desmond’s “driven and focused” approach to business has clearly rubbed off on his group MD and he admits the most important lesson he has learnt from the Express proprietor is “the need to focus closely on all projects that one is involved in”.
According to Myerson, this ethos of focusing on the job in hand transcends the whole management structure. “I think, as a team of people we know what we’re about, we know what our objectives are. We set them quite clearly and we work to achieve them and we apply very clear focus to the job in hand.”
Being next in line to the legend that is Richard Desmond and having been with the company for the past 25 years has earned the pair a brothers-in-arms-type reputation, which Myerson says is accurate.
Describing Desmond as “the most focused individual I’ve ever met in business”, he says: “We work very well together, I think we share similar philosophies about business and about life in general.”
As further testament to Myerson and Desmond being a match made in business heaven, Myerson says that, if he had his time over, he would have joined Desmond earlier than he did. “I had the opportunity to join Richard many years ago, before he had launched OK! magazine, but I don’t regard it as a problem, I got there in the end and we’re going for it and having fun.”
Not known for taking prisoners, earlier this year Express Newspapers quickly lost Victoria Hazell, its magazines ad controller, after just four months in the job.
Unwilling to get into details about Hazell’s departure, Myerson simply says: “Life moves on, people move on and Victoria made the decision that she wanted to move on and do different things, and we wish her well and, in the meantime, we’ve promoted from within" Another blow was dealt to the management structure last month when, after just over two years with the Express, marketing director Roland Agambar elected to return to News International.
Myerson says he is in the process of replacing Agambar, no doubt a priority ahead of, arguably, the company’s biggest project – launching a daily evening free newspaper in
It has been some time since talk of the free paper to rival Associated’s Evening Standard began and while Desmond took on Christian Toksvig, a former manager at Metro International, and former Evening Standard ad boss, Mike Orlov to run the paper, as yet nothing has happened.
While some critics are dubious as to whether they will launch at all, Myerson insists that, once the Office of Fair Trading rules about Associated’s current distribution deal, they will move forward.
“Distribution for this title is absolutely key and we have decided that we have to wait for the decision of the OFT. We have our team in place; we do intend to launch, but we intend to do the job properly.”
Should the OFT not rule in favour of the Express group, Myerson says that hand distributors are an option, but they would rather be on a level playing field with Associated.
When the new paper launches, the Evening Standard ’s continually dwindling circulation – down almost 8% year on year at the last ABC count – will, no doubt, take a further hit that may force Associated to make the Evening Standard free.
Myerson is unconcerned: “If they do decide to do that, it will cost them tens of millions of pounds, but that, of course, is a decision that they need to make.”
Speculating on Associated’s probable reaction, he says: “Whatever Associated do, it’s going to have a substantial impact on the Evening Standard . They might decide to roll the Metro into an evening slot as well, but in doing so, they’d be competing with themselves as well, but this is just speculation. I couldn’t really comment.”
One area that Myerson is happy to wax lyrical about is B Happy , a glossy fashion magazine to rival the likes of InStyle, Red, Glamour, New Woman and Vogue . In a move away from the celebrity format, Myerson says the magazine, due to be launched in April next year, will be aimed at women aged 25 to 44.
B Happy has been in the planning stages for the past six months and the company has recently hired editor Jane Procter to steer the project.
“It’s a personal shopper in print,” enthuses Myerson. “What it will do is, it will showcase all the latest trends in fashion in a stylish and upbeat manner targeted at an ABC1 women’s audience aged at around 25 to 44.”
In a departure from the traditional magazine format, readers will be expected to tear pages out and there will be stickers that will be potentially sponsored so they can put it on a page that they want to come back to.
“It’ll be different from the norm. The essence is that it’s pragmatic but it’s certainly attainable and we want people to interact with it,” he says.
Along with owning a sizeable chunk of the celebrity magazine market, the company is also formatting a plan for lad’s mag, KO! Unwilling to divulge too much information about it, Myerson says it will be in a similar format to OK! and would be closer to the upper end of the magazines market. Our view at the current time, I think, is that, if one is to capture the ad revenues, it needs to be closer to FHM than Nuts or Zoo,” he reveals.
As a self-confessed workaholic, Myerson counts among those he admires most as, unsurprisingly, Richard Desmond and also Rupert Murdoch.
“Rupert Murdoch has created an amazing empire and Richard has done it by himself with no help. I joined him 10 years ago and I know how hard it was then, clearly he had tougher years before.”
Myerson lives with his wife Renée (Express’ magazines contracts controller) and their four children in Hampstead. Myerson says it is possible that at least one of their four children will follow his footsteps into the Express, but that having his professional and family life intertwined isn’t a problem for him.
“The business has been very good to us.
Renée negotiates most of the large contracts across our magazines, it’s good having her on board.
She’s a very good negotiator and she works extremely hard. I don’t regard it as a problem at all, she’s certainly a strong ally.”
Myerson says that he would like to be remembered as being a “tough, but fair, individual”, but has no intentions of jumping ship anytime soon. “We have lots more we want to achieve with the titles we’ve got and, in the fullness of time, I’m sure we’ll move forward again.”
Looking around at the empty desks in their newly owned 10-storey office block, does beg the question as to, after B Happy , the
After a quarter of a century, there is little sign that Myerson’s enthusiasm for the business has quelled and, having propelled himself this far, there is little doubt that he has probably got a few more launches up his sleeve that will shake up the media world.
For his success to date, there has been a simple formula.
“It’s hard work and it’s a fantastic business.
I think dedication and hard work are the key notes to my limited success.
“Nothing more, certainly not genius.”
From solicitor to Daily Star
1974 Solicitor at Nupen Goodman Inc, Johannesburg
1978 Left South Africa
1979 Joined Daily Star
1981 Ad manager, Daily Express
1994 Assistant to managing director, Express Newspapers
1995 Group ad sales director, Northern & Shell March
1999 Group joint MD, Northern & Shell
How Stan became the man
Stan Myerson holds a bachelor of law and a business management diploma from
1981 saw him become advertising manager. He stayed until 1983, when he was made group advertising contracts controller for Express Newspapers followed by deputy group advertising director in 1985.
In May 1994,Myerson was made assistant to the managing director for Express Newspapers, followed by group advertising sales director for Northern & Shell in 1995.
Myerson has held his current position, group joint managing director for Northern & Shell, since 1999.
What they say –and what he says back
Stan Myerson responds to some of the perceptions of him as described by industry sources.
“He’s definitely a character, he’s not necessarily the most diplomatic person and he can definitely lose it.
However, he’s also very passionate about his product.”
“I think that’s correct, I do occasionally – very occasionally –lose it.”
“He has a lot of bad press, but at the same time, he doesn’t get a lot of praise for what he does well.”
“The only praise that I’d like to receive is to see our efforts reflected in the figure that we deliver.
We’re in business to make a profit and to ensure our products are developed properly and that they grow.”
“Though he might come across as being friendly and jolly, the reality’s actually vastly different from that. He’s well known for leading with a rod of iron.”
“I think f you’re involved in your business on a day-today basis and you take what goes on in the business personally, then, yes, there will be moments in time when one might not be friendly and where one is actually quite difficult and tough.”
“He doesn’t sit up in an ivory tower and he’s probably a lot more hands on than some of the other MDs.”
“We’re definitely hands on.
We’re involved with everything.”