As boss Sly Bailey quits in pay row – does anyone still need Trinity Mirror?

Sly Bailey, Sylvia as was, has quit her job as CEO of Trinity Mirror, publisher of the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and People plus a collection of local papers in an argument with shareholders over her £1.7m pay package. Bailey, a former IPC Magazines boss before she took over at the Mirror in 2003, faced shareholder demands to cut her bonus and clearly decided to get her retaliation in first rather than taking a pummelling at next week’s AGM.

News of her departure was apparently greeting with cheers in the Mirror newsroom and the playing of a YouTube clip ‘ding dong the witch is dead’ from the Wizard of Oz. Under Bailey the Mirror has seen its sales and market share fall as the company’s valuation has reduced from a heady £1.1bn to just £83.7m today.

In the circumstances base pay of £750,000 and a package of £1.7m does seem a bit steep (where on earth did all those bonuses come from?) although Bailey would no doubt argue that the job is even more difficult now than when she joined and that, had it not been for desperate cost-cutting the company would be bust by now. As it is Trinity Mirror has pension liabilities of around £1.7bn and no obvious way to pay for them.

Through all of this the Daily Mirror, the most important paper in the stable, has remained surprisingly vigorous, even making a modest profit, although it has been consistently outspent in every way by News International’s market-leading Sun. But the strategy behind Trinity Mirror, that the national papers could be supported by low investment cash cow local papers has proved disastrously misguided as locals have been stuffed by the migration of both readers and advertisers to the internet.

Who might want to buy the Daily and Sunday Mirrors (that the People survives at all is one of Fleet Street’s enduring mysteries)?

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, owner of News International, would certainly have been interested in happier times, but that was before phone hacking. The other two profitable groups in Fleet Street are Associated (publisher of the Daily Mail) and the Telegraph. But neither are that profitable and they have their own problems looming as print revenue continues to lose ground in the face of the digital onslaught. Politics would also be a problem for the right wing Mail (Telegraph too) if it absorbed the Labour-supporting Mirror.

But politics are the reason the Mirror titles are important. With most of Fleet Street lined up firmly behind the Conservative Party (although in the Mail currently not the government bit of it) the Labour Party, which has just bashed the Tories in the UK local elections and is ahead in the opinion polls, will be anxious that its most loyal supporter in Fleet Street remains in being and on its side. Which couldn’t be guaranteed in the hands of a Russian oligarch or Gulf State.

Trinity Mirror might muddle through of course although to do so it needs the UK economy to recover more quickly than it looks like doing. Or it might find a visionary leader to cheer up the Daily Mirror newsroom (this is not very likely).

Either way Bailey, who’s earned about £14m from her time at Trinity Mirror, seems to have got her timing spot on.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.