Media Headliner: From a blue-chip marketer to outdoor leader

With his client-side background, Matthew Dearden was a surprising choice to take over Clear Channel.

The announcement of Matthew Dearden as the chief executive of Clear Channel's UK business took some in the outdoor community by surprise. After all, many had formed the opinion that the managing director, Rob Atkinson, had been doing a solid caretaking job for the previous nine months and deserved a shot at the role himself.

Dearden comes from a different background to Atkinson and the sales director Steve Atkinson (no relation), who both have long careers in media sales. Clear Channel's chief executive in Europe, William Eccleshare, was clear that the new chief executive would be required to provide strong strategic direction and Dearden's six years at BT offer the hope that he can provide a fresh set of eyes in taking Clear Channel forward.

The job won't be easy. In 2009, Clear Channel Outdoor's international division made operating losses of $68.7 million. UK figures aren't broken out but when Eccleshare confirms that the UK is one of three major markets outside the US (alongside China and France), it becomes apparent that there is work to do here.

Yet Dearden claims to be undaunted. He says that he was reassured by the commitment of the major shareholders Bain Capital and Thomas H Partners before taking the job and argues that the UK team have made some good calls in recent months: "The team have already taken a lot of the right options," Dearden says.

"And I look forward to accelerating those. We need to strengthen the business further but we've come out of the worst recession in living memory and Clear Channel is in pretty good shape. I don't feel like I'm coming into a problem I've got to turn around but I'm coming into a business that has done a lot of the right things."

But why has Dearden, a bright and ambitious man, swapped a career in blue-chip marketing for a senior role in outdoor? He launched his career as a brand manager at Procter & Gamble after graduating from the University of Edinburgh with a degree in astrophysics. He insists that he loves the technology, media and telecoms industries and that he would have "gone into the City or management consultancy" if he had merely wanted to make money.

"I am really interested in being the chief executive of a business," he says. "I'm very excited about the ability to set the vision and direction and ensure the business raises the bar. It's a natural progression to be in general management but in the marketing industry at a media owner. I'm passionate about media because it really is a core part of marketing and advertising."

Dearden insists he has always appreciated outdoor and argues that BT had started spending more in the medium before he was approached by Clear Channel. "I love business being focused on its end customer," Dearden says. "As part of that, you have to market and you have to advertise. Outdoor, for me, can be the purest form of expression because you have to have an idea that's compelling. You have to have a graphic and/or a line that is to the point and engages people emotionally and cuts right through. If you can do that in outdoor, then that's a strong campaign which will work anywhere."

Outdoor may have acquired something of a murky reputation, due to some of its more opaque trading practices, but Dearden says: "In general, transparency is a good thing. I think most companies in most industries always have an opportunity to improve. I know it (outdoor) has that reputation and I'm not in denial about that but, equally, reputations aren't always fair and so I'm keen to understand the facts before I dive in and make sweeping assumptions."

BT was caught up in its own issues with media suppliers during his time there - the telecoms giant's relationship with Publicis' VivaKi recently ended, just two years into a three-year contract when its media account moved to WPP's Maxus. Dearden explains: "We had been with Starcom (the VivaKi agency) for quite a long time and we felt for various reasons that it was time for a move. I still have strong personal relationships at VivaKi. They delivered the price guarantees that we were looking for as a company."

The Maxus chief executive, Lindsay Weedon, expresses genuine regret that Dearden will no longer be her client. "He's one of the most intelligent guys I've worked with," she says. "He's really properly clever and will bring a different perspective to Clear Channel."

Dearden is confident about his ability to help take Clear Channel forward. He says: "In any management role, you live by what you deliver. So of course I expect to deliver improvements in the business. Does it worry me more than the other roles I have done? No, as I'm confident those improvements can be delivered."

When pushed, Dearden is unable to provide specifics or a timeframe but he is clear that he is there to bring a bigger return to his shareholders and better advertising opportunities to clients. "I see out-of-home and Clear Channel leading the charge," he says. "Moving from an industry that has historically been driven by landlords and inventory and a narrow sales focus to one that's focused on the advertiser and how we can help the advertiser build its brands."

And perhaps because he lacks decades of experience in posters, you get the impression Dearden will have a good shot at achieving this change.

THE LOWDOWN

Age: 36

Lives: Near Aylesbury

Family: Wife and two children, four and one - fabulous and time-consuming

Most-treasured possession: Contents of my hard disk: family photos and my music collection

Phone: I loved my old Nokia 6310i for its vast battery life and ease of use; alas, it lost an argument with a stone staircase

Favourite fictional detective: The Spenser novels by Robert B Parker

Interests: Hiking, NFL, family and friends, computing and gadgets, current affairs and politics

Favourite media: The Economist, The Guardian, online news and music.

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