Media Headliner: Chameleon Taylor to transform Disney's Jetix

campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 26 November 2004 12:00AM

Alasdair Reid assesses the adaptable new chief executive overseeing the former Fox Kids Europe's rebadging as Jetix.

According to industry lore, there are two types of television company chief executives. On the one hand, you have the vicarious luvvies, who are turned on by opportunities to preen and to hang out with the glitterati.

On the other, you have the ruthlessly inspired but fundamentally uncouth - the descendants, in spirit, of the legendary Hollywood mogul Louis B Mayer.

You get the feeling that Paul Taylor, the new chief executive of Jetix Europe, doesn't want to hang out with the stars. In any case, it would not exactly be easy even if he wanted to. His stars are cartoon characters.

He isn't Bob Hoskins (though he could probably do a fair rendition of the patois, as it happens) and this isn't Who Killed Roger Rabbit?. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that Taylor often seems closer to the Mayer end of the spectrum. And he is robust, clearly, both physically and mentally. For instance, back in his twenties, he played inside centre for Rochford Hundred rugby club and was fearless in the face of marauding rogue elephant opponents twice his size - which meant he was often knocked unconscious.

His rugger-bugger past is littered with tales of strip clubs and drinking games. He then went on to graduate from the school of hard knocks and long lunches in airtime sales at Granada TV.

But if you can see only this side of Taylor, you are, according to those who know him, missing a lot. He's far from one-dimensional - indeed, a glance at his CV will quickly put you right on that score.

He has worked in airtime sales (Granada), in TV planning and buying (McCann Erickson, J. Walter Thompson, WCRS, Lowe Howard-Spink and Geers Gross, where he became joint media director) and in TV management. In the late 90s, he moved from UK Gold, where he was the sales director, to become the general manager of movies and pay-per-view at BSkyB, adding programme acquisitions to his skill-set in the process.

He is, according to one source, a chameleon of a character. His latest role isn't too radical a phase shift - he was previously the network's group managing director - but it does involve another type of radical repositioning. Jetix is the new name for Fox Kids Europe, previously owned by News International and Saban Entertainment but now controlled by Disney.

Across Europe, there are 13 different feeds, reaching 37 million households in 58 countries - and the rebadging process, which is taking place on a rolling basis (the UK will switch in January), is due for completion in the summer of 2005.

It has chosen to rebadge as Jetix because it wants to appeal strongly to boys (Disney's brand values are too soft and family oriented). The company has carefully researched the new name and has prepared its audience for the transition - but change of this sort will always cause management anxiety.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man - and senior Disney echelons clearly regard Taylor as an extremely safe pair of hands. Isn't this a classic hospital pass, though? With governments in the UK and elsewhere in Europe looking to restrict certain types of advertising aimed at children, this is no time to become a kids' TV network boss.

Not so, Taylor says. He is confident that good sense will ultimately prevail. "If you look at the UK debate in particular, we're keen not to endorse practices that lead to obesity, but this is an issue that calls for parental responsibility too," he says. "I'm sure everyone would rather have advertising to kids on TV channels such as ours, which are regulated, rather than in uncontrolled environments."

Taylor admits he's ambitious. He clearly has the steely diplomatic qualities that are necessary to survive in the shark-infested waters of corporate life - especially when the waters are as choppy as they have been recently at Disney.

He says he gets a buzz out of leading the varied, highly talented people that you find in successful TV companies. And he says that his media agency experience has continued to stand him in good stead as he has climbed the ranks of international TV management.

He explains: "One of the things about agencies is you gain experience on a diverse range of clients, which gives you an insight into a whole range of business strategies. These days, it's important to sell the concept of your brand to advertisers - it's an important part of what they're buying into these days."

He says his media agency background has also been important in developing a commercial strategy that is broader than just the TV channel, embracing as it does things such as interactive TV, games sites and magazines. "It's about being able to offer a total communications solution across all our touch points," he says.

Like many managers before him, Taylor describes his managerial style as "tough but fair". But in this case, it is true, Mark Dickinson, the head of new business at OMD and a long-term friend since the rugger-playing days, says. The pair have also crossed paths professionally.

"He's a thoroughly decent bloke and he is incredibly adaptable," Dickinson says . "He can be rough, tough and gruff when he has to be but he can be a smoothy too when he has to be. He used to be incredibly good with clients. He's not so much poacher-turned-gamekeeper, more of a poacher-turned-lord of the manor."

THE LOWDOWN

Age: 46

Lives: Oakleigh Park, London

Family: Wife Louise, son James, 16, daughter Francesca, 12, son George,

almost 6

Favourite ad: Stella Artois

Describe yourself in three words: Straightforward, decisive,

enthusiastic

Most treasured possession: My family

Interests outside work: Rugby, waterskiing, windsurfing

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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