Feature

Chips sets Yahoo! on course for the mainstream

An apprenticeship in interactive advertising at Sky should serve Mark Chippendale well in his Yahoo! role, Jeremy Lee says.

In the same week that one old-timer from TV sales, Mark Howe, left his job, another, slightly younger one, Mark Chippendale, started in a new one.

Chippendale's return to the media industry has been a long time coming.

After all, it has been ten months since he walked (some say flounced) out of Sky, a company he had been with since its launch in 1990, without a job to go to. But after some searching, he has now returned in the newly created role of executive vice-president of media sales for Yahoo! Europe.

No-one was really surprised when Chippendale (who is more commonly known as "Chips" in media circles) left Sky. "Any of the broadcast directors around town would have put a year's salary on it," one TV director says.

The reason behind his departure was clear enough - Chippendale made no secret of his unhappiness that Nick Milligan was hired as his new boss by the managing director of Sky Networks, Dawn Airey, particularly given the history of antagonism between the two. Chippendale will know who his former Flextech counterpart, Howe, who left the company last week, should get in touch with as he adjusts to life away from the world of multichannel TV sales.

Unlike some battered media egos, Chippendale, at the relatively tender age of 44, was always destined to return to the industry. Over the past ten months, he was linked to a number of jobs, including Dave King's old position as the managing director of Emap Advertising and the chief executive's post at Virgin Radio. Incidentally, it is the job of the successful Virgin Radio candidate, Fru Hazlitt, that Chippendale now fills, albeit with a slightly tweaked job remit.

So what does he bring to Yahoo!? One agency chief is unsure. "As an operator, it's difficult to judge him because he was defined by Sky and was always in Peter Shea's shadow," he claims (in fact, some think it was Chippendale's ability as a fixer behind the scenes that enabled the rakish Shea, a former Sky sales director, to enjoy his lifestyle as a legendary bon viveur).

But another points out he is a consummate salesman. He likes rugby and cricket, and can strike an easy rapport with TV buyers, although some question his intellectual rigour. His highlighted hair, shiny suits and propensity to sing after a few drinks also seem to turn off as many people as they turn on.

Chippendale, who declined the opportunity to be interviewed for this piece, started his career at Granada Television, working with Nick Austin, with whom he later teamed up as a TV buyer at the start-up Austin West Media. He has also worked as a planner/buyer at Geers Gross, but his longest period of employment was at Sky, which he joined as a group head two weeks before it merged with British Sky Broadcasting. The "old" media of television seems to be embedded in his DNA.

Some see this as potentially his downfall - while the somewhat parochial TV buying community might find him terribly good fun, he could struggle to adapt to a job engaging pan-European advertisers that requires him to report to US paymasters.

Chris Locke, the group buying director at Starcom, thinks he will do just fine. "Chips will get Yahoo! to mainstream agency people and make it more of a mainstream media choice," he says. "This job is more up his street than Emap or Virgin. Given the areas that Sky was trying to move into - back of screen and interactive - this shows how qualified he is for the job."

Much like Howe, who has taken his place on the media subs' bench, Chippendale was instrumental in selling the benefits of the digital home beyond spot advertising. He immersed himself in the technology and pioneered Sky View, Sky's attempt to link viewing behaviour with spending patterns.

He was also an early advocate of interactive advertising, the full benefits of which have yet to be seen.

There is certainly still some convincing to do to convey the benefits of online advertising in general. One agency chief says Chippendale has a challenge on his hands: "I've yet to see the real, tangible benefits of any online proposition. The sales people are all very keen to provide figures showing click-through results, but these are based on the assumption that the online advertising is working in isolation and without the support of offline."

According to Alex Jeffries, the media director at Profero, Chippendale is taking on a good sales operation that engages with agencies and buyers and is a lifetime away from the operation of four years ago, which was notoriously inflexible. Jeffries says a large part of this is because of its policy of only employing people from traditional media backgrounds.

"I think it works - sales is sales," he says. Chippendale should have no problem in continuing to push the ad side of the business.

There are some wider and more long-term questions regarding the strategy of the company. Compared with Google, which sees itself as a technology company and is based entirely on algorithms, Yahoo! sees itself as media company, directing users to content rather than allowing computers to pick the content. It is embarking on the generation of a "walled garden" by encouraging users to create content rather than relying on large media companies to supply it.

This business model has the inevitable potential for conflict: with so much content owned by Yahoo! or generated within by its users, the quandary for the company is whether it should direct people to this or to the most relevant information. It could lose its credibility if it does the former, but will need to ensure it gets a return on the investment it has already made. Google does not face this dilemma.

Most people will wish him well in his battle to convince advertisers of Yahoo!'s strategy for the future. Phil Georgiadis, the chief executive of Walker Media, says: "The notion that bringing offline media people to online jobs will somehow bring their expertise to online is misplaced, but Mark's contacts, his profile and his knowledge of interactive advertising will stand him in good stead."

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