Forum: Will advertisers lose out in the Ginger revolution? - Will Chris Evans as media owner be a good thing for Virgin, commercial radio and media as a whole? Is he a dangerously loose cannon or a very smart cookie? Is he a player, a manager, or both? Do

By ALASDAIR REID, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 19 December 1997 12:00AM

Question: Would you let one of Gazza’s drinking mates run a radio station? Answer: Only if it was previously owned by an old hippy who traded his rock ’n’ roll recording stable - the Stones, Sex Pistols et al - for a fleet of 747s and now likes to be called Biggles.

Question: Would you let one of Gazza’s drinking mates run a radio

station? Answer: Only if it was previously owned by an old hippy who

traded his rock ’n’ roll recording stable - the Stones, Sex Pistols et

al - for a fleet of 747s and now likes to be called Biggles.



This is media DC Comics-style. Or even media as in the dreaded latest

Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies - the ’Blofeld mutates into Robert

Maxwell’ Christmas turkey. In other words, it’s colourful, melodramatic

and more than a little surreal.



We are, of course, talking about Richard Branson’s decision to sell his

Virgin Radio station not to Capital Radio as promised, but to Chris

Evans (Campaign, 12 December). Carrot-top Chris Evans - Evans of the Big

Breakfast when it was good, Evans as in TFI Friday, Radio 1 walk-outs

and star of the current Virgin Radio Breakfast show.



On the face of it, the deal was pretty good business for Branson. Evans’

company, Ginger Media Group, gives him an pounds 80 million wad of cash.

He keeps a seat on the board (and the decision-making involvement that

entails) while also enhancing the likelihood that the Virgin Radio

branding has been secured over the long term.



Capital, of course, lost out because the Monopolies and Mergers

Commission announced that it was delaying its decision on the radio

group’s proposed - and agreed - takeover of Virgin.



Who could blame Branson for listening to Evans’ audacious 11th-hour

bid?



But, for some, his last- minute jilting of Capital left an unpleasant

aftertaste and they would argue his halo is looking distinctly

tarnished.



That’s history now. The real question is whether the deal is good

business for Virgin Radio. And, more broadly, whether it’s good for the

radio industry.



There’s no doubting Evans’ pedigree as a presenter and Ginger

Productions is a pretty clued-up little company. But running a national

radio station is an entirely different proposition.



Is Evans up to it? Agencies are already worried about remarks he’s

allegedly made about hiking ad rates. Will that just be the first of

their worries?



Jonathan Durden, a partner in New PHD, maintains that Evans is likely to

be a huge asset to the industry. He says: ’Evans is a talented performer

and is likely to attract similarly high-calibre talent to the

medium.



He has a knack of developing innovative formats and will continue to

bring to radio a high public relations profile. The only negative is

what happens to Capital after all the effort it put into this. I don’t

understand how the MMC can hold up a deal and yet allow other people to

have access to that deal. It didn’t look very honourable to us. A lot of

people will not find that aspect so attractive.’



But Durden doesn’t think that there’s a downside to Evans’

character.



’Only time will tell, obviously, but I believe his enthusiasm and feel

for the medium will count for a lot.



I could see him developing in the swashbuckling media tycoon mould. And

I can see a lot of the people he has surrounded himself with over the

past few years continuing to be important. I wouldn’t expect him to get

stuck behind a desk. He’s contracted to the Virgin Breakfast show for

the next three years - that’s enough to be getting on with.’



Others would go further. David Connolly, the joint media director of Leo

Burnett, believes Evans’ move will raise the stakes across the whole

radio industry. ’He’s a perfectionist in what he does and he has an

amazingly high profile - he’s in the newspapers almost every day. At a

basic level, he is likely to take audience from the BBC which will help

commercial radio as a whole. It will be intriguing to see how much he

actually contributes in terms of schedules and presenters.



’But I think the biggest impact will come in the longer term with a new

and different policy towards advertising. If you listen to his show, he

interacts with the ads, slating the ones he hates and being enthusiastic

about the ones he likes. I could really see him turning down ads because

they’re not good enough. It might be risky, but he could move the

argument away from just audiences and costs per thousand. It’s something

advertisers might applaud too. It could be a huge creative stimulus to

the advertising industry. I think we’ll see creative teams keen to

develop copy in tune with his style and also trying new advertising

formats.’



Others such as Paul Mukherjee, press and radio buying director of the

Network, argue that Evans is a far more rounded character than people

realise. Mukherjee states: ’Ginger Productions is a well-run company -

Evans is already the figurehead of a very complex business. There’s

quite a lot of financial acumen there and you should talk to people

who’ve actually worked for him - he’s actually a very astute manager of

people. Just as a presenter in the mornings, he is likely to steal

audience - from television as well as other radio stations. From our

point of view, the fact that Capital lost out means that there’s more

competition in the marketplace.’



As for ad rates, Mukherjee points out that radio has two things to

sell - the audience and the brand. ’Evans might try to hike rates on the

basis of the brand. If you’re buying the brand, that’s fair enough. If

you’re buying audience, then you can get it elsewhere.’



Bob Wootton, the director of media services at the Incorporated Society

of British Advertisers, agrees: ’Everyone tends to get only what the

market thinks they are worth. If Virgin delivers more, it deserves to

earn more.



Advertisers understand that. What they tend to object to are situations

where falling audiences are coupled with rising prices.’



What about Evans as businessman and media owner? ’Everyone makes a

change in career direction at one time or another. It would be petty and

ungenerous to make a negative judgment on that. Let’s give him a chance.

He delivers on radio - he is undeniably good for audiences. The

commitment he brings as a performer means Virgin can face the future

with confidence.’



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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