Media Headliner: Heart's energetic MD turns it up in quest to be number one

Parkinson says revamping the station can win back the top spot. Ian Darby reports.

He's not a woman but otherwise Steve Parkinson, Heart 106.2's managing director, reckons he has much in common with the station's audience of thirtysomethings.

Parkinson, 37, has just unveiled Heart's "turn it up" proposition and he paints a florid picture of the audience trends that are driving the new branding. Apparently, listeners are "turning up" their lifestyles to fever pitch - up at 6am, down to the gym, off to work, pub at night and then back on the treadmill the next morning.

Not your first impression, perhaps, of the typical Heart listener, but the station is attempting to "turn up" its own offer and attitude to match this intense lifestyle trend. Its branding also points to its music policy - it's no longer about Tina Turner and Phil Collins but, Parkinson says, "everything from Odyssey to Outkast".

Parkinson reflects the newfound dynamism that has taken Heart to within a tenth of a per cent of overtaking Capital's audience share in London.

Unencumbered by a family, he describes himself as a "gym guru" and he has a fondness for dance music culture.

This is a legacy from his time at Chrysalis' youth-oriented Galaxy Network, where he ran its Bristol operation, then moved to Yorkshire to oversee its rebranding of two newly acquired Kiss stations.

As well as his operational responsibilities with Heart, Parkinson still heads the marketing for other Chrysalis brands such as Galaxy and LBC.

He says: "I live the different brands. I'm 37 now and just got back from Ibiza, there were 30 of us. It sums up what people do nowadays - thirtysomethings are comfortable with clubbing and going to Ibiza. I haven't settled into comfortdom yet."

Parkinson also likes to travel. Once the Heart rebranding is complete he's heading off on a seven-week sabbatical, taking in the sights of Argentina, Chile, Australia and Thailand with an Antarctic exploration chucked in for good measure.

Clearly not a man who is content to sit still, Parkinson is enthusiastic about the new Heart activity, created by his recently appointed creative agency, Clemmow Hornby Inge.

The timing is right, he says, because Heart is ten years old this year (the brand launched in Birmingham in 1994). "It seemed a good time to review the image because we're number one in Birmingham, neck-and-neck with Capital in London and the UK's number two commercial radio brand behind Classic if you include analogue and digital," he says.

Heart's London market has also become more competitive of late, with Capital bringing in Johnny Vaughan in the breakfast slot and Magic FM revamping and growing its audience. But the momentum seems to be with Heart, and there is every chance it can overtake Capital's 6.6 per cent audience share in the next set of Rajar results.

Heart's marketing is about building the brand across the whole of its daytime offering, while its rivals focus on their breakfast audiences.

Parkinson says: "Until this re-brand, we've been programming and marketing by stealth. It's been stable work with a stable breakfast show and management."

Those who know Parkinson testify to his energy levels and challenging approach. Iain Jacob, the chief executive of Heart's media agency, Starcom Mediavest, says: "In the radio industry a lot of people have been doing things for a long time and so often lack energy and vision. Steve doesn't."

Parkinson says there are clear commercial benefits to being number one in London and he is keen to recapture the crown the station lost a year ago. He is currently conducting a tour of media agencies to extol Heart's virtues, knowing that it must capitalise on its current health with increased revenues.

But he's keen to appear confident rather than arrogant. "David Mansfield (Capital's chief executive) saying Heart hasn't got a hope of being number one again was a strange thing for a chief executive to come out with.

How can you say that in an ever-evolving market? We'd like to be number one again and we aim to do that in the next 12 to 18 months, but through stealth and good work, not as a god-given right," he says.

He believes that it's too early to say whether Vaughan will be a success at Capital, but argues that listeners feel more at home with Heart's lower-profile presenters and that Vaughan's continuing TV work and lack of radio experience don't do Capital any favours.

Parkinson's target is to bring the rest of Heart's daytime performance into line with that of its Jono and Harriet breakfast show. He has been with Chrysalis for nine years but, unless he gets lost in Antarctica, he expects to be there for some time to come. "Being responsible for what's about to become the number-one station gives me the fire in the morning," he says.

THE PARKINSON FILE

1996: Galaxy 101 and 505, managing director

1997: Galaxy Network, marketing director

1999: Chrysalis Radio, marketing director

2001: Heart 106.2 FM, managing director