Paul Hayes has recently given a management training day and, on the flip-chart behind him, his boss Rebekah Brooks has annotated the commercial mission statements in thick blue pen. Next to "What is my job?", the redoubtable new chief executive of News International has written: "To arrive at work before the ceo" and next to: "What do you need from me?" she has scrawled just one word: "Money".
It is an unambiguous message from the publisher of four of the UK's biggest-selling newspapers, whose parent company News Corporation posted a £3.12bn loss in the year to 30 June. News Corp's newspapers earned £430m, down 40%, prompting chief executive Rupert Murdoch to describe the past 12 months as "among the most challenging in history".
For Hayes, managing director of News International Commercial, carrying out Brooks' strategy means getting to work at 7.59am and squeezing as much revenue as possible from The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and the News of the World.
He says: "As a daily newspaper business, News International has a voracious need for lots of cash because we produce brand new products every day. The trading part of our company has to bring in hundreds of millions of pounds of commercial revenue every year, and we have to get that business through the door."
News International has had a momentous two years, even in the context of an extraordinary period in media history. In February 2008, the company called in the fearsome Boston Consulting Group to look at how NI should best operate, and the resulting merger of the sales teams of Times Newspapers and News Group Newspapers into agency-focused hubs resulted in the loss of about 100 jobs.
When the smoke cleared, the company refocused on what it does best - content - and sold off News Magazines and house-hunting website PropertyFinder to invest in its main newspaper assets. Hayes says: "We have no plans for further editorial or commercial cuts; the restructure last year was the big set piece."
Ups and downs
On the upside, this meant greater investment in the Times, which last week launched monthly science and environment magazine Eureka. On the downside, it spelt the end for
thelondonpaper - but the decision was not taken lightly. Hayes says: "We are very proud of what we did with thelondonpaper. But in a difficult market, the paper wasn't on plan and we had to ensure the survival of our national newspaper brands."
The new-look News International Commercial - run along the five-point doctrine of bold, collaborative, forward-thinking, ambitious and supportive - is looking to shed its aggressive image and improve relations with media agencies and clients. The faces of change - or the "tomorrow business" - are new hires Neil Jones, former managing director of Carat, and Abba Newbery, formerly of UM.
Their commercial strategy is to align the brands with readers' interests. Hayes says: "Content works best when you understand the themes that matter most to your publication. For the Sun, a key theme is Broken Britain - the importance of community when times are tough - so we have done a deal with Dulux so our readers can vote online to nominate a local building they think needs redecorating."
The new set-up has also enabled an ambition by Hayes and Sky Media managing director Nick Milligan to pool the scale of the two News Corp-owned companies through the client-facing initiative Fusion. Hayes believes the greatest opportunities for clients will come through sporting events such as next year's Ryder Cup, with NI and BSkyB offering a combined reach of 80% of men under 24.
But the most radical project at NI is Rupert Murdoch's plans to charge for all online content by the end of 2010. Hayes is clear the existing online model is broken, encouraged by the 456,000 men already paying to play Dream Team fantasy football, as well as the paying customers for Sun Bingo and the Times crossword club.
His argument for online charging comes back to the need to produce quality content: people will pay if the content is worth paying for. "The reason we have market-leading papers is there is a clear understanding of the need to invest at the top of the organisation, and that drives everything. Unless we produce world-class content we don't have a business, and quality journalism doesn't come cheap."
Hayes is baffled by the cutbacks at his competitors - with the exception of Associated Newspapers, the only other news group "determined to invest in its products" - and says his rivals have only themselves to blame for falling circulations.
He explains: "When our competition is cutting down on the number of journalists, raising their cover prices and not doing any marketing, what outcome do they expect? We are putting more money into editorial and our circulations have gone up [Sun up 0.23% and NoW up 0.54% month on month in September]."
Hayes is a man who is impatient to get things done and says it is "transforming" to work with someone as confident as Brooks and with James Murdoch, who "makes things move very rapidly". He says: "Not once have we been in a situation where we have pitched an investment to James and he has turned around and said no, because the fact that newspapers require investment is in his DNA."
To illustrate the point, Hayes breaks off the interview to fetch a copy of Style magazine's one-off Fashion Special, dropping it on the table with a thwack. "Look at that," he says. "I won't tell you how much it cost to produce, but isn't that a fantastic message to give your readers when the rest of the market is saying ‘woe is us'?"
Managing director, News International Commercial
Managing director, Times Media
General manager, Times Newspapers
Advertising sales executive, rising to enterprise director, Telegraph Media Group
Advertising sales executive, Times Newspapers
Married to Marie with two children - Romy, 11, and Kezia, 9
Sailing, skiing and the theatre
The Sun's political allegiance It was the editor's decision to switch allegiance to the Tories. If you look at the way our newspapers have gone over the last elections, there is no consistency - they don't all say the same thing and that is as it should be. We are proud The Sun plays such a major role in the national conversation - good newspapers are only a heartbeat behind their readers.
Plans to merge The Guardian and Observer I hope The Observer has a good future. But does a Sunday Guardian work? Don't Observer readers want to read The Observer? Seven-day publishing was mooted while I was at the Telegraph and I don't think it makes sense. Unless you are committed to your products and you invest appropriately, I am not sure you have a future.
The London Evening Standard I am puzzled why it has decided to become a free paper. Will the cover price be more than compensated for by advertising? London is a tough old market and to see the only paid-for afternoon paper say the free model makes sense when it didn't make sense to us is confusing. It's a big call and it seems like a last throw of the dice.