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Reach reveals like-for-like growth for the first time in 15 years

Jim Mullen 1A 25pc increase in digital revenue at Reach plc helped the publishing group achieve like-for-like growth for the first time in 15 years, according to annual results published today.

Reach announced an increase in group revenue from £600.2m to £615.8m in its full year results for 2021 this morning, as well as an operating profit of £146.1m.

The publisher says digital now accounts for 24pc of all group revenue, more than offsetting the decline in print and other revenues.

It means the group was able to post like-for-like growth in overall revenue for the first time since its forerunner Trinity Mirror in 2007.

Reach said it also now has more than 10m registered users, ahead of its target, while online page views were up by 28.7pc when compared with 2019.

The report revealed that the group recruited around 400 new journalists during 2021 and launched 26 new titles over the course of the year as part of its ambition to provide “digital news coverage across every county in England and Wales, and more counties in both Northern Ireland and Scotland”.

Compared with 2020, digital revenue increased by £30m, a 25.4pc rise, while print revenue decreased by £22.3m, a 4.7pc drop.

However, Reach noted its print titles continued to generate the bulk of revenues during 2021 and “saw a resilient performance despite the ongoing challenges of Covid-19″, although the impact from inflation has “now intensified, particularly in print production”.

As a result, the company said, there is expected to be a “modest year-on-year reduction in operating profit” for this year.

Profits were also offset to some degree by a £29m sum put aside for dealing with and resolving civil claims in relation to historical claims of phone hacking and unlawful information gathering, and a one-off £23.7m cost caused by a mass office closure programme, which saw the company reduce its number of physical newsrooms to 15.

Chief executive Jim Mullen, pictured, said: “We’ve made significant progress as a business and I’m grateful to the whole Reach team for making 2021 such a successful year.

“We’ve completed the first phase of our Customer Value Strategy delivering a strong performance, with digital growth more than offsetting print decline. We’ve now hit our 10 million registrations target ahead of time and advertisers are embracing our portfolio of data-led products, which support significantly higher yields.

“Despite inflationary pressures in print, we’re committed to maintaining our focus on sustainable long-term profit growth, investing in product innovation and a more personalised user experience.

“Our strong balance sheet and cash generation underpins continued investment as we transition to an increased mix of higher quality digital earnings.”

National Union of Journalists’ Reach national co-ordinator Chris Morley welcomed today’s results, saying that their members’ hard work was “providing the foundation for a successful business steadily overcoming the legacy problems of the publishing industry.”

Said Chris: “The investment in journalism with 400 new editorial roles last year now also needs to be matched by investment in all its journalists for the acknowledged valuable role they play not just in a commercial company but also in the democratic fabric of society.

“The company continues to generate cash strongly and is debt-free. The £24m rise in cash balances held by Reach to more than £65m, suggests underlying strength and strong platform despite the harm brought to the economy from the Covid pandemic in the last two years.

“It is not lost on our members that they have helped the company to operating profits of £146.1m – up 9pc on the previous 12m months – and that the business’s profit margin continues to tick higher to nearly 24pc.”

General secretary Michelle Stanistreet added:  It’s heartening to see such positive results released by Reach, an outcome that is clearly testament to the efforts of journalists and staff across the organisation.

“The NUJ is in ongoing discussions with the company about a fair pay package and we expect that, in light of today’s announcement, an improved offer recognising the hard work of staff and the company’s success and good fortunes is secured.”