Media Headliner: Channel 4's prodigal son excited about new era

The new director of marketing and communications, Dan Brooke, believes C4 is still an innovator, Maisie McCabe writes.

Dan Brooke is carrying out one of his final tasks as the managing director of the production company Rare Day before he takes up the newly created role of director of marketing and communications at Channel 4.

He is taking a break from filming a documentary for Channel 4 but refuses to provide further details. Nonetheless, this provides yet another link in a whole chain of connections between him and the broadcaster and, more specifically, its chief executive, David Abraham, who hired him.

Brooke has previously worked at Channel 4 as a marketer for its digital channels and then as the general manager of E4. Before this, he also worked for Abraham at St Luke's and then at Discovery Networks. The bond between him, Channel 4 and Abraham is clearly a strong one, which will be useful if they are to successfully pull off the creative renewal Abraham has been advocating.

They are so close - and similar in nature - that Brooke has been described as Abraham's mini-me, albeit one with a more developed sense of humour.

Brooke joins Channel 4 after a period of remarkable change in personnel and outlook. Thankfully, the "pity poor us" bleating of old, espoused by Abraham's predecessor Andy Duncan as he pleaded Channel 4's poverty, has now been discarded in favour of something resembling renewed confidence.

Just one month after joining, Abraham instituted a management restructure in June this year, part of which saw the introduction of Brooke's new role. It also saw a reduction in the executive headcount. Brooke will oversee the marketing, corporate affairs and press departments, combining the roles for the first time. Abraham also unified the TV and online departments into a single content division, which will be led by the current BBC One controller, Jay Hunt.

Given that Channel 4 has been without a marketing director since Polly Cochrane left in October 2008 and that it has been criticised for lacking distinctiveness, you could argue that Brooke's appointment is long overdue. But Brooke insists Channel 4 "is still very different" to other TV broadcasters. "Twenty years ago, there were hardly any channels, it was easier to look distinctive. I'm really excited about the next phase. The question is how do we make Channel 4 continue to feel different?"

This apparent dichotomy between providing unique programming for sometimes niche audiences while continuing to be commercially viable enough to attract advertisers is one that many of his predecessors have wrestled with (and he has too during his time running E4). Brooke claims that this is what attracted him back to the broadcaster. "That's what turns me on," he says.

That said, Brooke is unwilling to discuss how he intends to articulate this apparent arousal in any of its future marketing. While he acquired the moniker "the king of cunning stunts" early in his career as the marketing director of Paramount Comedy Channel, it's likely that we'll see a more mature and measured approach in the future.

"The Paramount stunts were bang-on for a comedy channel but Channel 4's a different beast. You do what's right for the job you're in," he says.

Any activity at all would be welcome given Channel 4's relative communications blackout, although it is launching its "Twist" campaign shortly. But he is confident - and certainly contentious - with the bold claim that "Channel 4's marketing does generally set the gold standard in the industry".

He will, however, enthuse about the power of the TV ad, suggesting that most efforts will focus on using its own promotional airtime. "TV channels are very lucky in that they have, in the form of airtime, a product that happens to be the most powerful medium that is available to other advertisers," he says.

In programming terms, Brooke cites the recent documentary What The Green Movement Got Wrong and a debate on the film chaired by Krishnan Guru-Murthy as the sort of formats that define what Channel 4 is about: "The show was a polemical documentary, alternative choices challenging the status quo. That's exactly one of the things Channel 4 is there for."

Nonetheless, the loss of Big Brother, which consistently delivered higher-than-average audiences for Channel 4, is a challenge. And the loss of the US series Friends will hit the youth-focused E4 even harder when it defects to Comedy Central, Brooke's old stomping ground which rebranded from Paramount Comedy in 2009.

Brooke is well aware of the challenges facing Channel 4 and, though he defers to the sales director, Andy Barnes, for exact figures, he insists it is still the place to reach light TV viewers and that all important 16- to 34-year-old age group.

With ITV and Sky Media looking for increased share of revenue, it seems Channel 4, rather than Channel 5, might be in for a rough ride in the annual media negotiations. "Channel 4 should lead innovation," one TV buyer says. "It is tasked to do so but hasn't always done in recent years. It's promised a lot and often ended up not delivering very much of it."

Having learnt his trade on the fringes of satellite TV channels before working his way up to management level, Brooke will need to draw on his reserves if he is to convince viewers - as well as media buyers and advertisers - that the renewal that Abraham claims to have started is real and under way.

THE LOWDOWN
Age: 42
Lives: North London
Family: Married, 2.2 kids
Most treasured possession: I adore my kids
Favourite TV show: Dispatches
Favourite commercial: Simples ...
Favourite media: TV, internet
Hobbies: Art, Brazilian music

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