Kathryn Jacob is ready to take on the radio industry, Anne-Marie
Kathryn Jacob is tidying her knicker drawer when I call her to arrange
an interview. She doesn’t know me from Adam, but offers to come round
and do mine later.
Jacob, 34, has just been appointed sales director at Virgin Radio, and
has had plenty of time for tidying her drawers lately. Although she
actually left her previous job at IPC Magazines last September, her
contract ran until January this year. So in the intervening months she’s
had lots of spare time for (and these are her words): riding her bike,
painting her house and cooking Delia Smith’s Winter Collection for her
husband, Iain Jacob, Motive’s international media director.
All that will now change as Jacob plunges back into the hurly-burly
world of media sales. It’s a job she appears admirably qualified for.
‘She has lots of energy. When you’re selling it helps to project
immensely and to be engaging. She’s both those things,’ Mike Wood, the
media director at J. Walter Thompson, says. ‘She’s also a very amusing
Others go further. ‘She’s a goddess,’ Derek Morris, the joint media
director at BMP DDB Needham, declares. ‘I thought her best period was
about 12 years ago when she was on What Mortgage?’ But seriously Derek.
‘She’s a good operator and she’s got bags of energy and personality,’ he
Jacob has also been described as the ‘Robin Williams of media’ so I was
bracing myself for a real in-your-face assault when we met in the flesh.
The venue was Le Meridien hotel in London’s Piccadilly where Jacob has
taken up residence for the past week while the internal politics at
Virgin, caused by her arrival and the subsequent departure of the
station’s head of sales, John Quinn, work themselves out.
She sits dispensing tea and chat, easily drowning out Le Meridien’s
harpist who is plucking madly nearby. As I expected, Jacob is bubbly and
confident - a snug fit with Virgin’s own profile, of course. She could
probably become slightly wearing if you were recovering from flu, but
she is not as relentlessly upfront as I first feared.
In fact, despite her willingness to hold court in the hotel’s tearoom,
Jacob can also be remarkably coy. You get the sense that she believes
you’re setting traps for her. I ask Jacob what her peers think of her
and she appears embarrassed. ‘I’ve never asked them... that I’m a nice
girl I suppose,’ she fudges.
Ask her why she left IPC Magazines and you elicit a similarly
unsatisfactory response. She says she was ‘looking for challenges’. But
the rumour mill still murmurs away hinting there was a personality clash
between Jacob and IPC’s redoubtable group ad sales director, Sly Grice.
Jacob herself has nothing but praise for Grice (and indeed IPC in
general). And she’s a toughie herself of course - a clever, 90s tough
which means getting what you want, but making everyone else feel
empowered in the process.
Jacob believes one of her strengths is man management and that ‘people
like working for me’. Judging by the fact that John Quinn’s chair is
still warm and Virgin’s sales team is already welcoming the new girl
with open arms, I’d say she’s right.
Certain members of the radio fraternity have griped at her appointment.
They point out that, as radio moves along the TV road in the way it is
bought and sold, picking an ex-print person for a national station may
not be such a smart move.
To be fair, Jacob had never sold national newspapers either before she
joined the Daily Telegraph.
‘If I’d come from broadcast, they would have said, ‘How unimaginative’.
Look, there are certain things I’m not au fait with, but by day three I
should be. I’m not unintelligent. I’m a sales director. I have to have a
vision for my team and give them direction. I don’t have any baggage,’
Part of Jacob’s vision will involve moving the Virgin Radio brand on to
the next stage. In bald terms, that means making more money. But it also
means looking afresh at the marketplace and facing up to the challenge
of media fragmentation.
You can bet Jacob will give it all the personality and energy she’s got.
‘I want to win Campaign’s Medium of the Year for five years running. I
want to take everyone on,’ she declares (much to the harpist’s
consternation). I wonder who’ll tidy her knicker drawer while she’s
sorting that lot out.
The Jacob file
1982 Thompson Regional Newspapers, management trainee
1984 Financial Magazines, sales executive
1985 Daily Telegraph, sales executive
1987 Daily Telegraph, group head
1992 IPC Magazines, TV listings titles, ad manager
1994 IPC, agency sales director
1996 Virgin Radio, sales director