MEDIA: HEADLINER: Zenith's popular chief is ready to work his charm at Granada - Graham Duff has picked a strenuous time to lead the company, Lucy Hone says

Graham Duff, the chief executive of Zenith Media for the past five

years, is one of media's much-loved cheeky chappies. Let it be known

that you are profiling him and the compliments won't stop rolling in.

But platitudes aside, the newly appointed chief executive officer of

Granada Enterprises has one hell of a task facing him, requiring every

ounce of the pragmatism and drive that his fans like to speak of.



There can be no denying that Granada and ITV are currently under the

cosh. Turnover, share price and national advertising revenue have all

fallen over the past few months, with job losses reportedly on the way.

Television advertising may well be a cyclical market, but Duff isn't

going to be in for an easy ride over the next couple of years.



So why has he chosen now to make his move back into television after

nine successful years on the agency side?



Duff admits that some of his friends in the business have questioned his

sanity over the move. "But you can't pick the timing, can you?" he says.

"The revenue position at the moment is clearly not an attractive one,

but I'm going in with my eyes open. And Granada approached me now, not

when the revenues are better." He also insists that he was drawn to the

job by the sense of change currently pervading ITV, and the love of a

good challenge.



"Granada doesn't need turning around, nor ITV putting back on the map,"

he comments. "But there has been a hiatus there since Richard Eyre's

departure and I'm in no doubt that the impending arrival of Jim Hytner

is going to refocus the operation."



With so much of the inventory already tied up in long-term deals, some

of them ranging to 2003, it is debatable how much immediate impact Duff

can make on the revenue stream.



But there is no doubt he aims to tackle Granada's poor customer service

record head on.



Duff says: "Everything Zenith Media does now is totally different to the

way things were three years ago: client demands have changed

considerably, becoming much broader, and media owners need to understand

that. The main thing I've learnt from my time at Zenith is the

relationship between advertisers and agencies, which will allow me to

get the sales operation to reflect more accurately an understanding of

the issues that exist between them. That's where ITV has lagged behind,

and I will be able to change that."



As an example of more imaginative and far-reaching client service, he

points to the joint Carlton and Granada presentations to creative

agencies this summer. But he adds: "It was a telling indictment of their

current sales operation that it had to be Martin Bowley and Mick Desmond

who did the presentations."



Although he says he is not planning a massive staff shake-up, it is

clear that Duff views the existing sales operation as out-moded,

admitting: "I do have a free reign staff-wise. There are some terrific

airtime traders at Granada, which is obviously essential, but the

operation needs broadening out in terms of influence and emphasis. They

need to recognise that different people have different influences in the

budget decision. It's not just about TV trading. I'm not sure that media

owners, per se, know the right buttons to press within advertisers and

agencies. What you don't need is a whole raft of people wasting

advertisers time; instead the emphasis needs to be on

understanding."



Christine Walker, a partner of Walker Media and a former colleague of

Duff's at Zenith Media, believes his move was partly prompted by the

huge amounts of uncertainty he will be leaving behind as the chief

executive of Zenith Media UK. "At least the fact that Granada's share

price is on the floor and the revenues are underperforming are public

knowledge. They are more certain uncertainties than he's got at Zenith,"

she says.



Most observers agree that Duff will have more chance to make an impact

at Granada, particularly if it succeeds in its long-term ambition of

becoming the solus ITV company. Despite the gibes about Granada's

offices being closer to home, Duff does admit the move was not an easy

choice. "No-one can predict the shape of the UK media scene in five

years time," he concedes.



"I could be taking the most enormous gamble: this could either be a

master-stroke or the biggest mistake of my life."



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