HEADLINER - Mystery man brings his fresh gaze to TSMS’s sales strategy

Adam Rhodes lacks fame but has a clarity of vision, as Claire Beale discovers.

Adam Rhodes lacks fame but has a clarity of vision, as Claire Beale

discovers.



His appointment was the first damp squib of the year - rivals cackled

with glee at the news. In a business where the unknown is unknown,

nobody knows Adam Rhodes (Campaign, last week). The new chief operating

officer of the ITV sales house, TSMS, is an outsider and an

interloper.



Despite his lengthy service at the university of marketing, otherwise

known as Procter and Gamble, and his experience as a management

consultant - which is all very worthy, of course - Rhodes is not a

member of that crack elite: the TV salesmen.



But relax. While the fiercely ginger 35-year-old may be a complete

unknown in this most incestuous of industries, Rhodes is a golfer. He

has a 16 handicap. He also plays a musical instrument. OK, so it’s the

piano and he’s only at grade six, along with a handful of

pre-pubescents, but it has sales conference potential.



Some would say that these are Rhodes’s most obvious credentials for his

new position at TSMS. But there is always the slim possibility that his

unfamiliarity is his unique selling proposition. The murky pool of TV

sales is not exactly swimming with fresh talent, and innovators are more

likely to be found on the edges of the market than within the ITV

system.



So, his appointment could be seen as a breath of fresh air.



But, even so, it’s hardly the sort of high-profile appointment that the

bland TSMS so desperately needs, critics would argue. Where’s the

razzmatazz?



Well, Rhodes might not be a showman, but he is most definitely a

salesman, according to his old playground chum, Nick Hurrell, who is

virtually the only person in the business to have heard of Rhodes before

last week.



Hurrell has known him since the days when Mrs Rhodes used to take them

both to school.



Hurrell, the joint managing director of M&C Saatchi now that he’s grown

up, remembers young Rhodes as a ’charming winner’. He says: ’Adam’s got

this real ability to be a tenacious competitor, but to be very nice

about it too.’ In fact, Hurrell - who now finds himself in the strange

position of having his old schoolmate as his client (M&C Saatchi handles

the ITV advertising account) - always thought Rhodes would be a

top-class marketer. ’Adam was very persuasive, a great salesman,’ he

says.



It could be that Rhodes inherited what Hurrell identifies as ’an

entrepreneurial bent’ from his father, who ran a retail business.

Certainly, by the time Rhodes junior was putting puberty behind him, he

had settled on a degree in managerial and administrative studies at

Aston University (for Rhodes is Birmingham born and bred - yup, he’s a

Birmingham City fan). Then he went straight into P&G, not a bad company

to work for, says Rhodes, if you’re the father of triplet girls - think

of all those cut-price Pampers.



What P&G also gave him, Rhodes adds, was an objectivity and an

understanding of advertising from the client’s perspective. In the same

way that advertisers had to cope with a reversal of power in their

relationship with retailers (who now, of course, have most advertisers

by the balls), so ITV companies are having to manage a similar

about-turn in the relationship with their advertiser clients.



’It was a strategic decision for TSMS to bring in someone who looks at

the world with a different gaze,’ Rhodes explains. ’I don’t come

encumbered with baggage. I look more objectively and I’ve got a

different set of skills, and those qualities are important in taking

TSMS into the future.’



So what will he be doing at what is still the weakest of the three sales

houses? ’Getting my feet wet and my hands dirty,’ he says. ’I’m not an

ivory tower kind of manager - I’ll be getting out and about, learning

from the people already there and, hopefully, they’ll be learning from

me.’ More specifically, he identifies ’the need to establish a vision of

the future, to understand in real depth the nature of the TSMS product

we have today and how we can shape that for the future.’ It will be, he

insists, ’an evolution’.



As you can tell, Rhodes is well in possession of the salesman’s

rhetoric, although his delivery is more humble than that of some. But

will he really cut it in the television market when some are already

sniffing for his blood? ’He’ll be out within 18 months,’ one observer

predicts.



But then, with clients’ fingers tightening round the ITV companies’

balls, it could be that Rhodes will help TSMS loosen the grip a little.

If not, it could get painful.



THE RHODES FILE

1984    Procter and Gamble, sales representative

1986    P&G, area manager, London

1988    P&G, sales and marketing manager

1993    P&G, sales and marketing division manager, beverages

1993    NHA International, managing director, training and

        consultancy

1997    TSMS, chief operating officer



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