Feature

Media Headliner: Competitive but engaging: the new man at VBS

The innovative, laddish, short-tempered Nick Bampton has the experience to fill his predecessor's shoes, Jeremy Lee writes.

Nick Bampton's elevation to managing director at Viacom Brand Solutions comes as the MTV sales house faces challenges on several fronts.

With the regulatory spotlight now on childhood obesity and the possibility of restrictions on the advertising of unhealthy food, there is potentially a massive threat to VBS's £70 million advertising income stream. While all TV channels will be affected, VBS is under particular threat (as well as its youth-oriented MTV channels, it also sells airtime for the children's channel Nickelodeon).

Second, Emap, Sky and Chart Show TV have parked their tanks on MTV's lawn, so it no longer holds the monopoly it once did on the profitable music-television niche market. Indeed, Sky Media now accounts for almost half of music TV viewing, with VBS holding the bulk of the remainder.

On top of this, Bampton is slipping his feet into a pair of shoes that were formerly comfortably filled by Paul Curtis, his well-respected former boss, who has left the company for Sky Media. Some think Curtis could be a tough act to follow. All in all, it's a tough brief by any standards - so what chance has the diminutive Bampton got?

The consensus is, it seems, quite a good one. Bampton is one of the new breed of TV sales chiefs, and has already set out a clear vision for what he expects from his staff and for how the medium as a whole should be marketed. On top of this, he has years of experience and knows his market inside out.

Bampton and Curtis were parachuted into the company following a farrago of magnificent proportions in the late 90s. VBS had, rather embarrassingly, employed the wrong person to run the company following a mix-up of names - it thought it was getting the highly respected Matt Shreeve, the head of agency sales at Channel 4, but instead got another Channel 4 staffer, Matt Marsden. Marsden, who had previously only held relatively junior positions, seemed out of his depth and didn't last long, but VBS's reputation was left looking a little battered.

To repair the damage, Curtis and Bampton were hired from five. Curtis took the role of the affable and mild-mannered managing director and Bampton gained a reputation as the aggressive one of the pair. Through the double-act combination of Bampton's tenacity and Curtis' creation of meaningful relations with advertisers and agencies, they managed to turn the sales house around.

This is something that Bampton wants to build upon, pushing VBS higher up the agenda. "We've always been strong on sponsorship and promotions, but we want to have more partnerships with clients and strategic planners," he says. This, he believes, will enable VBS to grow its share of revenue ahead of overall multichannel.

It's not just VBS that Bampton is passionate about changing. "We want to be a bit smarter as an industry. In the past, we've responded to briefs but we should be getting involved in the process at an earlier stage. We want to behave with agencies in a more grown-up way," he evangelises.

But what of the double-act? Bampton, now he has taken the statesmanlike managing director's role, will need to act quickly to employ a foil - all sales teams work best with a duo running the show so that they can play the good cop, bad cop routine. As for the threats that VBS faces, Bampton is sanguine. While he does not underestimate the threat that a potential ban on some food ads would pose, he thinks that it is the responsibility of the TV channels to make sure they act responsibly - Nickelodeon, he contends, already does.

He also dismisses the threat from Sky Media's music channels. "Sky has got some music brands that are traditional and are way down the EPG, so we don't see them as a threat to MTV," he says.

"While they'll be delivering music impacts, the content on MTV is not about music videos any more. There aren't any other channels in music that develop their own content, whereas MTV is making cutting-edge programmes reflecting the investment that is put in the channel."

Certainly, the MTV brand continues to be a strong one, and one that is attractive to advertisers (evident from the eye-watering bonuses that VBS is rumoured to regularly pay its staff).

And what of Bampton the person? Known to the TV industry as "Bammo", he is one of Nick Milligan's coterie of airtime boys who, like Mark White and Kelly Williams at five, have risen to the top of the TV sales tree. This coincided with a purge of the old guard as the dinosaurs were killed off following the ITV merger.

He's passionate, intensively competitive, short-tempered but engaging company, and fits the VBS stereotype of being achingly cool. He's also a bit of a lad - there are rumours of piss-drinking pranks on sales trips - and therefore ideal for what is still an unashamedly laddish sector of the advertising industry.

But beyond this simplistic stereotype, he is renowned for being genuine and decent. "He's the personification of the VBS brand values - he's open, honest, has got integrity and is innovative," Curtis testifies. It is likely that Bampton will need all of these qualities to steer VBS through the challenges that lie ahead.

THE LOWDOWN

Age: 35

Lives: Chiswick, London and Devon

Family: Wife Gillian, daughter Isabella

Favourite TV ad: Dr Pepper "punk'd"

Describe yourself in three words: Passionate, honest, fair

Most treasured possession: Family

Interests outside work: Gillian, gold, Chelsea FC

Favourite TV programme: Trouble at the Top