MEDIA HEADLINER: Mild-mannered operator who calmly plotted UK expansion - Mark Mays, head of Clear Channel, enjoys working hard Claire Beale reports.

Sitting in the Decaux private jet last week en route to the French Open, darling, champagne breakfast in hand, one couldn’t help but muse on the changing face of the poster industry.

Sitting in the Decaux private jet last week en route to the French

Open, darling, champagne breakfast in hand, one couldn’t help but muse

on the changing face of the poster industry.



What once seemed a grubby, parochial little business run by sweaty men

in polyester suits is now a high-powered billion-dollar international

game run by men who, well, have their own private jets for starters.



Also to be found enjoying Monica Seles thrashing Martina Hingis in the

semi-final was Decaux’s rival, Roger Parry, the chief executive of More

Group, ostensibly celebrating his birthday but no doubt quaffing the odd

glass of champers in thanks for escaping Decaux’s gallic clutches.



For Decaux has been locked in a heated bidding war for More Group

against the US media company, Clear Channel, and, last week, Clear

Channel emerged triumphant, taking a controlling 51 per cent share of

More.



But if Parry was celebrating, his new bosses were characteristically a

little more reserved. According to Mark Mays, Clear’s president and

chief operating officer, there were no celebrations in Texas.



Despite a roller-coaster of a takeover battle that had the British press

gripped as though this was a matter of national importance rather than a

5 per cent advertising medium, Mays is sanguine. ’We’re the sort of

company that keeps its head down. We just keep on going,’ he

explains.



Not the sort of good-time guy our poster boys are used to then, but hey,

as Mr Mays says, ’busy hands are happy hands’. His hands must be pretty

damned rushed off their feet right now. Not only has he just added a

fourth baby to his brood of sons, there’s also the small matter of a

company worth more than dollars 700 million to run as well.



I mean, get this for a list of assets: 170 radio stations in 36 US

cities, 19 TV stations in 11 US cities, 88,000 billboards in 31 major US

markets, a 29 per cent interest in the leading Spanish language US

broadcaster, Heftel, a 10 per cent interest in the largest domestic

tower company, American Tower Systems, a 33 per cent interest in New

Zealand’s largest radio broadcaster, NZRN, a 50 per cent stake in a

Prague radio station, outdoor interests in China. And now 51 per cent

(and rising) of More Group in the UK. Phew.



All of which may seem a little untidy, perhaps. But for Mays, the

company’s strategy is clear. ’We want to be a global leader in the

fast-growing out-of-home sectors - radio, television and outdoor.’



The acquisition of More, though, fits into this strategy ’beautifully’,

Mays explains. ’It creates a platform for our continued expansion in the

out-of-home market, but it also brings us expertise in the street

furniture market, something we can import into the US to expand our

outdoor assets here.’



Outdoor, though, is a new toy for Clear Channel. The company started out

in radio back in 1972 when Mays senior, Lowry, bought a fledgling FM

radio station. By 1984, the company had gone public and, when Mark Mays

turned his back on investment banking to join the family firm in 1989,

its business encompassed 16 radio stations across the US. By the end of

1997, Clear Channel recorded a 98 per cent increase in revenue year on

year to dollars 790 million. The analyst, Merrill Lynch, says: ’Clear

Channel is the premier consolidator growth stock in the media group, and

it is guided by a superior management team.’



In this context, More begins to look a little overshadowed - a local

outpost of a global company whose assets stretch far beyond the humble

billboard. How much love and attention will Mays really lavish on his

latest corporate baby? Well, Mays sees posters as one of the big growth

areas for Clear, and More’s existing business base is the perfect

spring- board. More is already an international force and outdoor is an

easier business than many in media to get into because regulations are

often more lax.



As for lavishing attention on More, Mays says it will be mainly business

as usual. ’Our philosophy is one of decentralised, flexible,

entrepreneurial businesses.’



Both Parry and Mays promise investment in More’s existing stock, and the

accelerated expansion of the More network around the world. But Mays is

cautious about opportunities for replicating Clear’s global ambitions of

multimedia ownership in the UK market. ’We’ll be focusing on outdoor,’

Mays explains. ’It’s difficult to get hold of broadcast licences in the

UK, so we will concentrate on building More.’



And that’s just the beginning for Mays. ’We want to be in as many

markets around the world as possible,’ he puffs, before adding sweetly:

’But we don’t have this ego thing where we just have to be the biggest.

Just the best.’





THE CLEAR CHANNEL FILE

1972: Lowry Mays launches Clear Channel with its first asset - an FM

radio station in the US

1984: Clear Channel goes public

1989: Mark Mays joins Clear Channel as chief operating officer

1998: Clear Channel takes control of More Group



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