Feature

Five's dynamic duo ready to lift off where Milligan left off

Five's new sales chiefs have been groomed to take over from Milligan, writes Ian Darby.

Management pairings are all the rage at the moment. Last week, Campaign reported on Vizeum's progressive strategy of dividing responsibility between Trista Grant and Chris Boothby.

This week sees the broadcaster Five filling the gap left by the deputy chief executive and sales director, Nick Milligan, with two internal promotions.

And Mark White, who takes the role of executive director of sales, and Kelly Williams, who becomes the sales director, are undoubtedly a double act.

The duo will have their work cut out to build on the success of Milligan, both in terms of industry profile but, more importantly, in sales performance.

Both are very much proteges of Milligan, having worked under him for 15 years, first at Thames TV, then UK Gold, before joining him as part of the sales team for Five a month ahead of its launch in 1996.

But how to tell them apart? White, the senior of the two, though both will sit on the Channel 5 Broadcasting board, says: "He's the trendy 36-year-old and I'm the sad 40-year-old with two kids."

But family life seems to be beckoning for Williams, too, as he's getting married in September. A keen musician, who records albums with the group Community Spirit, Williams is familiar to many agencies because he works closely on completing Five's deals.

White is, by all accounts, a more elusive figure, a behind-the-scenes fixer who rarely leaves the confines of Five's office. An Essex man by background (he ran a Burger King in Romford and worked at Ford's factory in Dagenham before moving into media), White spends his time outside work with his family and following Liverpool FC.

Predictably, Milligan is generous in his praise for the pair: "They carried me for many years and it's great that they be promoted into these roles - they're two exceptional characters."

But how much will Five miss Milligan, and will White and Williams make up for the gap he leaves?

White says: "Nick is a huge figure in the industry. We're familiar with his qualities, especially his strategic thinking and he'll now be up against us so that's interesting and exciting. We've got to prove we are capable of doing it."

The pair identify closer cross-departmental working between sales and programming as an area on which they will initially focus. Other challenges include driving up secondary revenue.

Observers are split on whether White and Williams are the right team to take Five sales forward. Some believe that the broadcaster should have gone for an external heavy hitter to fill the post but, apparently, there was a clear succession management strategy in place at Five and supporters of the broadcaster argue that some continuity was important given that Five already has new blood in the shape of the director of programming, Dan Chambers.

White and Williams sat down with the shareholders Gerhard Zeiler of RTL and Malcolm Wall of United Business Media before they signed contracts. "They were both very open, encouraging and gave us reassurances that they want to stay with Five," White says.

But isn't Five looking a bit isolated in the world of multichannel where rivals such as ITV and Channel 4 also have strong second channels in ITV2 and E4? Williams says: "Multichannel strength is something that we as a company need to develop but this is unlikely to come from us launching a new channel."

Reading between the lines, Five seems more likely to look at acquiring an existing channel. Williams adds: "While we're growing the core channel, and it is still growing, that's the priority. We are talking to the programming department because there are still areas of the schedule we could improve on."

White and Williams are seen by some as a steady if unspectacular pairing. Chris Locke, the trading director for Starcom UK Group, says: "They're both very capable. If you work with Milligan, you're inevitably in his shadow but they're very good and very aware of where Five is in the scheme of life. They're not table bangers."

Others think that Milligan's departure will harm Five. "As a buyer this is music to my ears," one trading director says, believing that Milligan's contribution to Five can't be underestimated and that White and Williams only have their opportunity because of the departure of Milligan's previous deputy, Paul Curtis, to Viacom.

But Curtis, now the managing director of Viacom Brand Solutions, says: "Mark's always been the power behind the throne. They're both very likeable and professional and, when people meet Mark, I think they'll realise that he's more than capable of stepping forward."

Some believe that there is a wider context to the appointments, that the duo will soon find themselves as part of a larger sales department after a merger with another broadcaster's sales team, whether it be Channel 4 or another rival.

So how likely is a merger with another sales team? White says: "Future consolidation is always a possibility but CRR was meant to protect agencies and advertisers and it almost has. I wouldn't envisage any consolidation in the immediate future but never say 'never'."

Shorter term, agencies hope that White and Williams will make a priority of asking the board to invest more in programming. The pair makes a convincing case that Five can continue to grow both audience share and sales revenues but there is a consensus that they face a very tough challenge ahead.

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