Media Headliner: Miron steers Global's flagship into fresh waters

Global Radio's chief executive, Stephen Miron, says its Heart rebranding exercise is on course to deliver.

When Global Radio first announced plans, back in January 2009, to replace separate heritage stations with a single Heart brand, Stephen Miron, its chief executive, says some of the industry reacted as though it had bought Disney and decided to "play with the mouse".

Last week, Global Radio announced it was still playing and that 32 Heart stations will become 15 by the end of the year with the loss of up to 200 jobs. The new larger stations will serve the same area but provide regional, rather than local, programming and greater levels of network content.

Miron insists that the move will "enhance the Heart proposition" for listeners and advertisers, citing the addition of a new early afternoon network show that started on Monday. The changes were enabled by the recent Digital Economy Act, which came out of the Digital Britain report compiled by Lord Carter, the former chief executive of Ofcom. "What it's about is offering as good a service to our audience as possible to compete with other network broadcasters, including the BBC," Miron says.

"You've got to make sure that it's a level playing field so we can compete in the future," he adds. "For the business, the changes are a good thing but it is difficult because some of the decisions we have to make have an impact on people's jobs."

Global is not universally popular with its commercial rivals. UTV, the talkSPORT owner, recently pulled out of the commercial radio trade body the RadioCentre, blaming what it saw as Global's dominance in determining policy. Indeed, some radio-industry figures question whether Miron is motivated by the interests of the commercial sector, beyond Global's own profits.

Yet he is committed to pushing Global's involvement in discussions surrounding analogue-signal switchoff by 2015 and is vocal in supporting commercial radio's protests against any BBC incursion into commercial territory. There's little doubt that Miron maintains a high profile in the industry, which is seen by some as a double-edged sword. One rival warns that his confidence is in danger of "tipping over into arrogance".

However, others think this is unfair. Linda Smith, the executive chairman of the Radio Advertising Bureau and the former chief executive of Starcom MediaVest, says: "Stephen is one of the smartest people in the business. His ability to grasp detail, alongside seeing the bigger picture and driving strategic thinking is remarkable."

Miron joined Global Radio in August 2008 from The Mail on Sunday where, as its managing director, he built a reputation for innovative, even daring, marketing initiatives such as its deal to give away the Prince CD Planet Earth with the newspaper. Despite lacking experience of commercial radio, he brought with him a good contacts book, senior commercial experience and a reputation for being a fierce businessman.

There are signs that Global's management triumvirate of Ashley Tabor, the group chief executive, Miron and Richard Park, the executive director and director of broadcasting, are making waves. At the last Rajar, the Heart network's reach rose 1.4 per cent year on year, while its Global Radio stablemate stations Classic FM and Capital both increased by 1.9 per cent.

Miron is keen that the ad market supports this small success. However, the fact that Global, following its acquisitions of Chrysalis Radio and GCap in 2007 and 2008, accounts for more than 50 per cent of the commercial radio industry is unsettling for some. Miron says advertisers have nothing to fear: "In a medium that was fragmented, we have been able to invest significantly in the stations. That's why we have grown an audience that had been in terminal decline. And it's not a coincidence that, for the first time in five years, radio grew its share of display revenue."

He claims that this investment is paying off for Global's private investors, who paid top dollar for their buys just ahead of the downturn, and dismisses speculation that they are unhappy with Global's performance.

"In the past 12 months, despite the climate, we have grown our ad revenue," he boasts. "It's a testament to how many great people work in the company.

"There is a long-term commitment to the business and the medium," he says. "We haven't been going for that long, what we have done is pretty game-changing. We've gone through a huge process defining our vision and values. We've done a huge amount of work and we're hopeful we'll be reaping the benefits from now on."

Miron cites the recent success of the Capital FM Summertime Ball in association with Asos.com as evidence of how far Global has come. "I don't know of any other media brand that could fill Wembley Stadium in four days. I didn't get the same tingle when I went into the Ideal Home Show."

Looking ahead, items on Miron's "to do" list include helping creative agencies improve the way they use radio, especially after the UK's limp performance at this year's Cannes Radio Lions, and "trying to evolve" the way radio is traded.

While audience figures suggest that Global's changes have brought in listeners, Global still has work to do in convincing the media market that its "playing with the mouse" will deliver benefits beyond cost savings for its wealthy private backers. In Miron, though, it possesses a leader who relishes a challenge and isn't afraid to speak his mind. Like what he says or not, commercial radio should be glad to have him in its corner as it faces an uncertain and challenging future.

THE LOWDOWN
Age: 45
Lives: Cobham, Surrey
Family: Wife, Suzanne; daughters, Georgia (eight) and Anya (five)
Most-treasured possession: See below
Car: Ferrari
Best thing about working in media: See above
Favourite song: All Time Low - The Wanted
Favourite Summertime Ball guest: Nick Robertson, the chief executive of
Asos.com
Favourite gadget: iPad

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