Close-up: the Campaign interview/Jim Hytner; Little Jim finally gets to play with the Sky big boys

Claire Beale speaks to the marketer who’s launching Sky into the digital TV era

Mrs Hytner senior must be the first mum to see both her sons profiled in

Campaign in the same year. First, Richard joined the Henley Centre as

its chief executive. This time it’s young Jim’s turn. The baby of the

family is the recently appointed marketing director of the biggest force

in UK broadcasting, Sky Television.

Imagine a job where you’re responsible for a brand with a turnover of

pounds 1 billion. Where everything you do is accountable virtually on a

weekly basis. Where what you’re peddling can change daily. Where the

market in which you’re working is changing almost weekly and where a

massive revolution is just around the corner. And where Rupert Murdoch

and the fearsome Sam Chisholm are your bosses.

Little Jim Hytner is the guardian of the colossal Sky brand. It is, he

claims, the most exciting and challenging job he can imagine doing.

Sky, he says, is a marketing-led company from the top down. His job is

to drive satellite subscriptions and to present Sky’s programmes in an

enticing way. His marketing strategy is built around creating viewing

events - such as a movie premire or football championship - and using

those as a platform for advertising and promotions. And he’s doing it

relentlessly, last week launching a pounds 13 million autumn advertising

blitz (Campaign, 30 August).

‘This is the sort of place where if you’re not worrying about next week,

then something will come and hit you on the back of the head,’ he

explains. ‘We market every week, week-in, week-out, and the call rates

to our subscriber management centre show almost instantaneously whether

what we’re doing works or not. That’s stressful, but also very

exciting.’

He refers often to the ever-changing nature of Sky Television, the need

to be always on his tippy-toes. ‘You don’t write strategic briefs at

Sky, you think it in your head, articulate it to Sam [Chisholm, the

chief executive] and then it’s put into action.’

Good job he’s got one of the most solid marketing backgrounds around

then, including posts at General Foods, Coca-Cola and Sega. ‘It would be

impossible to be Sky’s marketing director without having conventional

brand-building experience,’ Hytner admits. ‘I’ve taken that and used it

in a braver, more decisive way.’

Both professionally and personally, Hytner claims a few role models.

Primarily, his big brother, Richard, but also his former boss, Philip

Ley, Sky’s ex-marketing director. To an extent, Hytner has been in their

shadows. Richard, he says, has been the biggest influence on him. ‘He’s

a consummate professional and the nicest person I know. We’re very good

friends.’ On the other hand: ‘I am where I am with a great deal of help

from Philip. I’ve learned a lot from him and I like him so much.’ Mind

you: ‘Philip’s rock and roll. I’m more like my brother.’

Hytner is now emerging from behind the skirts of these two influences

and claiming his own spotlight. As Richard says: ‘Jim’s always been

rampantly driven, perhaps because he’s the youngest of us four children.

But he’s been playing catch-up for long enough.’

Still, stepping into the big shoes hasn’t been a breeze. Taking over

from Ley and establishing himself as the marketing director of Sky has

been the most difficult thing in his career to date, Hytner says.

As marketers at Sega at a time when Sega was huge and rolling on a

cutting-edge reputation, Ley and Hytner were perceived as the new

generation of trendy, rule-breaking, dangerous marketers. But really it

was Ley, the one with the ponytail, whom everyone remembered. Hytner

seemed at times like the puppy yapping at his heels; the short one. ‘One

of Jim’s disadvantages,’ Ley explains, ‘is that he’s going bald. I

always had too much hair.’

It’s probably because he played the second fiddle so well that the news

of his succession raised a few eyebrows. Brother Richard confesses to

feeling a bit nervous about the role Jim’s had thrust upon him. ‘I know

he’s genuine and sincere, and I was worried that would be abused at Sky.

But they seem to love him there.’

Hytner himself voices no doubts about his suitability for the role, and

says the time was right for him to wear the crown. Despite his modest

stature and his impish grin, Hytner has a self-assurance beneath which a

hard edge is tangible. He confesses to being an intense task master, a

description that Christine Walker, the chief executive of Sky’s media

buying company, Zenith Media, recognises. Hytner, she says, is not an

easy client.

‘Some of the faxes he sends us are just fucking rude and you think, ‘Go

away, you little shit.’ He’s certainly not backward at coming forward.’

This upfrontness, Walker explains, is a prerequisite for working at Sky.

‘He’s totally committed and very determined, with this charming boyish

enthusiasm,’ Walker adds.

Ley describes Hytner as ‘deceptively strong, but with a little creative

sensitivity, which is endearing’. Jim, he says, is able to get away with

things others can’t. He remembers a business trip to Minnesota with the

Sky board. One afternoon, in a diner, Hytner decided to entertain the

crowd with a rendition of The Streets of London. As the rest of the Sky

board arrived they were greeted with the sight of Hytner standing on a

table crooning amid a gaggle of young women. ‘Jim’s always fancied

himself as a bit of a singer, like John Denver,’ Ley explains.

Jim is worried that this sense of humour doesn’t come across when we

meet. ‘I’m very serious about my work at Sky, but I am a laugh,’ he

says. But then it’s hard to be a bundle of fun when you’re talking about

pretty big issues, such as marketing a company with annual revenues of

pounds 1 billion and the introduction of digital broadcasting.

The next real challenge for Hytner - as if taking over from Ley wasn’t

enough for a while - will be launching the Sky brand into the digital TV

era. In the digital, multi-multi-channel TV world, Sky’s message will

have to adapt, and it will be up to him to ensure that Sky stands out

from the pack.

Hytner is convinced that it will become more important than ever to

ensure that Sky is at the forefront of marketing digital technology,

remaining the programme market leader and the pioneer of technical

innovation. ‘It’s hard to say this without sounding arrogant,’ Hytner

grins, ever unpretentious, ‘but we will continue to lead the market.’

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