Feature

Can Kirkman add media sparkle to Hachette's profile?

Hachette has the potential to become a major player in the UK. By Lexie Williamson

Watching Tim, aka "Lord", Kirkman puff lazily on a Hamlet, the obvious becomes blindingly so: the former Carat director of press never really fitted the "buyer" mould. While his compatriots were teeing off or raving about Chelsea, Kirkman was sloping off to his Oxfordshire pad for a spot of grouse shooting or trout fishing. "One of the biggest mistakes of my life was not learning golf," he says.

So should we be surprised that Kirkman has defied stereotyping once again by turning his back on agencies to become the sales director of the distinctly low-profile Hachette Filipacchi? If you consider that he has dedicated 20 of his 39 years to agencies (14 at Carat) and is a permanent fixture in the Campaign Book of Lists' "Best Media Buyers" section with his "firm but fair" negotiating style, then no wonder there were a few raised eyebrows. "Lots of people phoned me up and said: 'You're a complete idiot'," Kirkman laughs. "But just as many understood. I needed a change and there was no point in leaving Carat for another agency because why swap a Man United shirt for a Chelsea shirt?"

Kirkman's "change" was instigated by Carat's decision in the summer to merge his press team of 47, which handles billings of £250m, with TV buying to give clients more cross-media options. While Mark Jarvis, the TV buying director, got the job of overseeing the joint 120-strong department, Kirkman was offered a new role of head of investment for Aegis, negotiating TV, press, radio and cinema deals for Carat, Vizeum and Feather Brooksbank. But he declined the job (which reported to Jarvis), though, oozing typical charm, he heaps praise on the cross-media move and comments affectionately of Jarvis: "Jarvo is a very, very talented bloke."

His choice of media owner, not an IPC or News International (70% of Carat's press spend goes on newspapers), was surprising. The smaller Hachette owns Red, Elle, Elle Decoration, Elle Girl, Sugar, B, Inside Soap, All About Soap and TV Hits. But after three months' gardening leave, Kirkman is itching to get stuck in at a company he insists will be a major player in the UK. "Outside the UK, Hachette is the world's biggest publisher, producing 238 magazines across 36 countries," he argues. "I could have gone for something bigger but Hachette's UK objective is to become a major force in the market and I'm interested by the potential."

Kirkman admits to being "slightly nervous" about the agency/sales culture change that awaits him on 17 November. Kirkman and Kevin Hand, Hachette's chairman, eyed each other up for four weeks before concluding the match was right. "Kevin could have gone for a traditional sales director," Kirkman acknowledges. "Some agency people have found it difficult to adapt, so he's taking a gamble with me." Having said that, he sees precedence in Dave King, his old Carat colleague, moving to Emap, where he is the managing director of Emap Advertising.

Without wanting to panic his future sales force of 65 before he has set foot in Hachette's Mayfair HQ, Kirkman is already mulling over a few potential changes.

One is to rearrange a "confusing" sales structure. Another is to scrutinise agency and client sales. "Hachette has a great portfolio of products but I would like to take it to the next step," he says. "For example, who are we talking to in agencies, the strategic planning teams or planners and buyers? And what story are we telling both types of people?"

Hand, who talks of launching a title a year, most likely supplementing his stable of women's magazines, knows exactly what Kirkman can add. "We have got some really good salespeople who are doing a great day-to-day job," Hand says. "What they need is a figurehead to draw up an overall strategy and have a vision for where the market is going and how to get us there. Because we are small, we have to out-think and out-perform other publishers, so we need a quick, lively mind and Tim can give us that. I think he's ready for it." Factors such as Kirkman being the account director for LVMH at Carat must also have sweetened the deal.

Hand also predicts the media-friendly Kirkman will do a sterling profile-raising job -- having spent the past 12 months acquiring Elle and Red from Emap, buying Attic Futura and merging the businesses, Hand hasn't had the time.

Mark Gallagher, the head of press at Manning Gottlieb OMD, worked for Kirkman as a planner/ buyer and says Hachette is lucky to have him. "Tim is straight in his dealings and has heaps of gravitas," Gallagher says. "He's got print running through his veins, which happen to be blue. Despite what he says about being just a middle-class boy he's really posh; our nickname for him was PC [posh c***]. Mostly, though, I'm looking forward to watching him come to Manning Gottlieb and sell. I am going to use every trick against him that he taught me."

The Kirkman file

1983 Saatchi & Saatchi, trainee

1987 Still Price Court Twivy D'Sousa, director

1989 YMG Carat,main board director

1998 Carat, director of press and executive board member

2003 Hachette Filipacchi, director of sales

If you have an opinion on this or any other issue raised on Brand Republic, join the debate in the Forum here.