There is a pleasing symmetry to the fact that, as Tim Wootton bows
out of television sales after 27 years, the market is on the brink of
At a time when ITV prepares to tackle the challenges of digital
television, Wootton - the departing chairman of the ITV sales house,
TSMS - seems to be a man from a bygone age of television.
That’s not to say that Wootton, known affectionately as ’Spitter’ by his
legion of admirers, has had his day, just that his scrupulously honest
approach and diplomatic public demeanor are more indicative of a
brand-leading ITV than one in danger of disintegrating under the weight
of internal power games and strident competition.
Yet as Wootton prepares to bow out of the ITV sales mire for the - er -
media buying mire (next week Wootton takes over as the new non-executive
chairman of Zenith Media UK), he can look back on a chequered
When Wootton entered the business in 1970 at Anglia (’a lovely place to
work if daddy could afford to send you,’ he explains), his boss was a
retired Marine colonel whose second-in-command was a Polish squadron
leader. It was a gentlemanly profession and Anglia was no heavy sell. As
a sales rep for the Lincolnshire region with a fixed quota of spots,
Wootton had time to develop a keen interest in national hunt racing.
’Back then, ITV was a monopoly, very Reithian and was seen as a public
service,’ Wootton says. ’It was frustrating for the advertisers.’ Very
frustrating, too, for the young Wootton, who had sold luncheon meat from
the back of a car and who knew the customer was king.
But for all that, Wootton - whose appearance and fatherly manner belie
his 48 years - cherishes the good old days. ’The ITV companies had
hearts, more soul, the ambience was gentlemanly. Now it’s a much more
professional, aggressive operation,’ he says.
Wootton himself must take part of the credit (or is it blame?) for this
sea-change. For it was his sales initiative that was to transform the
entire structure of ITV sales and which will be Wootton’s lasting
’To me it was obvious,’ Wootton explains. ’Sales were contracting and
you might as well be driving that rather than waiting to see if you’d
get a job.’ Wootton launched the UK’s first ITV sales house, TSMS, with
his then partner, Dick Emery, in 1989.
’Some people were petrified about the idea of a sales house, some didn’t
think it would work, the competition was very sniffy about it and the
agencies and clients were very worried about confidentiality,’ Wootton
Yet TSMS set the agenda and other sales operations followed suit to the
extent that, with sales now concentrated into three sales points,
predictions of a further reduction down to two are widespread. TSMS is
the one usually served with a death warrant. Such gloomy forecasts have,
Wootton says, been the biggest challenge. ’We’ve hung on in there and
we’ve done a reasonably good job for our clients, despite being
perceived as the weaker of the three.’
In Wootton’s opinion, it is this three-way tussle between the ITV owners
- Carlton, Granada and United News and Media (which owns TSMS) - which
is holding back the ITV network. ’Nothing will happen in ITV unless the
three main players work together,’ he says. ’I think it is indicative,
and very sad, that you have Marcus (Plantin, the network director)
leaving and confusion within the structure. ITV needs a master and not a
servant to run it - and the three big players have to accept that if
they go for a servant they’ll get a weak administrator - and all the
problems they have will just go on and on and ITV will decline more than
it needs to.’
From the perspective of one escaping the mire, Wootton endorses the idea
of greater co-operation.
While sales unity is still some way off being legally acceptable,
Wootton sees no reason why all the back-of-house operations, everything
but direct selling of the product, can’t be performed in one building.
’It’s ludicrous not to.’
At Zenith, Wootton will help the company get more cosy with its
’I can be avuncular in helping Graham Duff (Zenith’s chief executive)
get a closer relationship with some of the large clients and, after 27
years, I have a good address book and I know a lot of people.’
The other attraction of Zenith is, he believes, the company’s integrity.
’I have many faults, I’m not very clever, really, but one thing I’ve
never done is anything dishonest. Zenith, to my knowledge, has never
done anything shady.’ A nice change from ITV sales?
The Wootton file
Anglia Television, sales representative
Anglia, group marketing director
Anglia, managing director, sales and marketing
TSMS, joint managing director
TSMS, chief executive
Zenith, non-executive chairman