Media Headliner: TV awaits the arrival of Desmond's hatchet man

Stan Myerson, who has earned a fierce reputation in print, could be set to head airtime sales at Channel 5.

The life and times of Richard Desmond - never less than a circus (flying or otherwise), albeit with additional dialogue penned by the Brothers Grimm. But then the best knock-about comedies should have a darker and slightly disturbing side, which can often manifest itself in intemperate language. And this, of course, is where Stan Myerson comes in. There's an ugly side to Desmond too, obviously. He can be foul-mouthed and aggressive. But you can't really escape his almost endearing appetite for the downright ridiculous.

We love the story that, having triumphed last week in his £103 million bid to buy Five (now renamed Channel 5), he led his board in that traditional hymn of thanks, The Carpenters' We've Only Just Begun. And that, the deal done and the singsong sung, he turned up at the broadcaster's studios to be interviewed on Ian Wright's probing current affairs pro-gramme, Live From Studio Five.

What a card. In contrast, however, observers are rather more ambivalent about Myerson's claims to be a figure of fun. As, indeed, a whole new bunch of people in the media marketplace are about to find out - because it is now likely to become Myerson's lot, after a professional lifetime in print, to oversee airtime sales on Desmond's newly acquired channel.

This should, to say the least, prove interesting. The initial view last week, especially among those who thoroughly disapprove of him, was that this could turn out to be a nice little comeuppance for Myerson. Channel 5 is already the airtime market's injured straggler - and recent sales-point consolidation makes it even more likely that it is due a terrible mauling in the forthcoming negotiation round.

That accident-in-waiting would, some observers suggested, merely now happen on Myerson's watch. Within hours, though, they'd had a rethink. Neither he nor Desmond would readily submit to that sort of humiliation. And, after all, they could have one or two tricks up their sleeve. They could, for instance, cross-sell Channel 5 in a package with OK!, and the Express and Star titles. They could deal with advertisers directly - as they did in establishing OK! as an advertising success story.

Especially if, at the same time, they set out to disrupt the airtime market's time-honoured (but by now rather creaky) trading mechanism based on share-of-spend and station average price. The blending of Channel 5's activities with those of Desmond's print titles could make for a confused picture that any sales chief worth his salt would look to exploit.

For the time being, Desmond is not talking detail in terms of his plans for Channel 5's commercial team. However, senior players in the TV industry indicate that he has not approached either Sky Media or Channel 4 about co-operation so the assumption is that he is planning to go it alone, given that any tie-up with ITV could raise regulatory concerns.

Desmond has indicated that he is not willing to be "bullied" by either rival broadcasters or media agency groups, and with Myerson by his side, this is unlikely to happen given some of the mythology that has grown up around the South African joint managing director of Northern & Shell.

Judging by his dealings with those in the magazine and newspaper world, it seems clear that there are not many men like Myerson in the UK media industry.

But where to begin? One place to start are the allegations about Myerson's character and conduct made by Andrew Cameron, a former managing director of Express Newspapers, in his book about his time on the paper, currently available for 39p on Amazon.

Cameron was in charge when, in the mid-90s, it was decided that the time was right for Express Newspapers and Myerson (he was at that point the deputy managing director) to part company. Temporarily, as it turned out: he jumped ship to Desmond's Northern & Shell, only to return in triumph at the side of Desmond when he bought the group in 2000.

Yet there's a Walter Mitty-ish aspect to Myerson, some say. Over the years, he's told some tall tales about his South African background (he came to the UK in 1978, canning, at an early stage, a proposed career in the law) - and a few years back, an investigative journalist in the UK hired a pri-vate detective in Johannesburg to check out aspects of the Myerson back story.

He found little evidence to confirm any of the darker stories that surrounded Myerson, and don't be misled, some observers say. He may be a bit rough around the edges but he's no fool. Underestimate him at your peril. As one observer puts it: "Anyone who's dealt with him has seen the rough side of Myerson. Trust me, he can lose it. But he can also be incredibly charming - especially with clients. He is an excellent negotiator. And he can command incredible loyalty. After all, Mel Danks (formerly his head of trading at Northern & Shell) worked for him for something like 18 years."

Almost true, Danks, now the deputy commercial director at The Independent, responds. Yes, he gave her a job at the Express 18 years ago; but their paths diverged along the way.

She reckons some people let their imaginations run away with them where Myerson is concerned. He's clearly not the monster that they believe.

She concludes: "He is demanding and impatient and it's always his way or the highway. When you work with him, you have good weeks and bad weeks. And, yes, it's true - and I've said this to his face - he can be a bastard. But he is also incredibly motivational. And the fact is that a lot of the stuff you hear just isn't true. There's an urban mythology that's built up around him.

"He is colourful - and it's exciting to work for a company that's prepared to break all the rules. We need more of that these days. He's a smart and tough businessman and he certainly won't be fazed by the TV market. And they'll do it differently. They'll break the rules. It will be interesting."

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