JOHN Fry, chief executive of Johnston Press, publisher of The Scotsman, yesterday said advertising revenues at the beginning of 2010 continued to fall – but at a slower rate than in the past 18 months.
In an update to shareholders at the firm's annual general meeting in Edinburgh, Fry said advertising revenues in the first two months of the year were down 6.5 per cent on the same period last year.
He said some categories of advertising showed growth – property was up 4 per cent and display advertising was 2 per cent higher. However, Fry added the group's "most difficult" category was recruitment, which fell 28 per cent in the same period.
A number of shareholders raised concerns about the decision to award cash and share bonuses to Fry, chief operating officer Danny Cammiade and finance director Stuart Paterson in 2009, a year in which the company made losses of 114 million and did not pay dividends.
Peter Cawdron, a non- executive director and chair of the remuneration committee, said that the executives had "achieved appropriate levels" of their bonus targets based on share price performance and operating profit as well as personal objectives for 2009. Group chairman Ian Russell said the board had recruited Fry to turn the company around and that he was "doing a damn good job" and was paid at "market rates".
A shareholder vote on the remuneration report came down 98.9 per cent in favour. Russell said the board would consider awarding bonuses in deferred shares.
Last August, Johnston Press agreed a 485m refinancing of its debt with lenders. As a result, the firm agreed to amortise payments of 25m per year. Yesterday, Fry confirmed the group expected to pay the bank its 2010 installment "earlier than expected".
After a brief experiment with pay walls on some websites, Fry said the firm was concerned about the impact of charging customers to access web content on the group's 18m of online advertising revenues. He said: "We see this is a year of learning from what is happening in paid-for content."
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