MEDIA: PERSPECTIVE; Phase three of the media wars is not just about buying

Gordon MacMillan meets the ex-sales chief ideally suited to his new position From all the honeyed words being spoken, you’d think that Paul Woolmington’s appointment as the new global media top banana - or, to give him his proper title, worldwide strategic media director - at Ammirati Puris Lintas (Campaign, 10 and 17 May) was just fine and dandy with everyone. Wrong. At least as far as Initiative, Lintas’s specialist media operation, is concerned, it has caused no end of grief.

Gordon MacMillan meets the ex-sales chief ideally suited to his new

position



Chris Hughes is a self-declared Esquire man. He is, as he puts it,

‘public school, Cambridge-educated and fabulously wealthy. What more

could you want?’. This confident description is entirely apposite as

Hughes is the newly installed publisher of the National Magazine

Company’s Esquire magazine (Campaign, last week) and not often does one

come across a character who sees himself as the embodiment of the

product he sells.



Hughes joined NatMags three years ago after more than a decade at Times

Newspapers, first at the old Gray’s Inn Road offices and then at

Fortress Wapping, where he earned a reputation as an aggressive ad man

who was, in turn, a decent chap to do business with.



For the past three years he has been Good Housekeeping-bound, working

under the tutelage of Liz Kershaw and Sally O’Sullivan. The end result

has been a contribution in turning the once-ailing magazine into a star

performer for NatMags. Nice work.



Now, as publisher of Esquire, Hughes will have his very own business to

play with. It is, he says, a challenge and a prospect he finds most

appealing. Partly because it will remove him from directly selling ad

space and partly because it will make him, in partnership with the

Esquire editor, Rosie Boycott, 100 per cent responsible for the health

of the magazine.



You can almost see the enthusiasm in his face when he says that he will

now be working on a magazine that the media buyers themselves read. On

Good Housekeeping he was responsible for getting buyers excited about a

magazine they certainly did not read, and that was once best-known for

being dull.



Boycott must be thanking her lucky stars, too. Not only does she get a

top-rated ad sales man for a publisher but, to boot, he is the man she

is writing for. He is Esquire man. There he is, darting withering looks

at his ad manager and sales team from inside his glass box office, where

he is on tap ten hours a day. All perfectly ideal should one of those

‘Damn - what does Esquire man think of this?’ moments arise.



To satisfy your curiosity, here are a few more insights into the life of

this Esquire man. When not lunching around Soho, and not in the

Broadwick Street offices, he can be found complete with a wife, three

kids and a house in the country, unashamedly pursuing his interest in

gardening: ‘I am proud to admit it. It is a life-long interest and it is

physically creative.’



Hughes is also a Spurs fan or, as one agency bod put it, ‘a Tottenham

yob with a calculator’, which Hughes quickly identifies as a put-down

from an Arsenal fan. However, even as a fabulously wealthy Esquire man,

Hughes is not impressed by the pounds 50 price tag it now costs for him

and his son to see a nil-nil draw with Aston Villa. ‘I would like to go

more often, but for that price I could buy a Richard James tie,’ he

muses.



Hughes says that being at NatMags has done him a lot of good, a real

change from the more frenetic and turbulent world of News International.

‘News International thrived on attrition. I thrived on it, but when you

are there for so long you do not realise that there is life outside.

Arriving here was a very pleasant surprise.’



One erstwhile colleague of Hughes remarked that departing the Murdoch

ship and heading for Hearst Corporation’s UK outpost was a make-or-break

move.



For, while everyone regarded him as a real professional news-paper ad

man, the world of magazines is very different. There is, for a start,

less of a pin and less of a stripe in the suits. Hughes himself turns up

for the interview in an olive green suit and checked shirt. Not NI wear,

not newspaper wear. A different attitude entirely. Hughes seems to have

made the transition with relative ease.



What does Hughes think he has brought to NatMags from those ten years in

newspapers? ‘One of the things I tried to put forward on Good

Housekeeping is authority and good ideas. There should be no weak areas.

Your have to be on your toes all the time, otherwise someone else will

be.’



Finally, Hughes reveals the difference between Esquire man and the

Loaded lad, which also clearly illustrates the chasm in styles and

targeting in the small but burgeoning market of men’s magazines.



‘My wife does not work but, if she did, I would not mind being a house

husband. I’m very keen on cooking and all that stuff around the house.’



The Hughes file



1982 The Times, trainee sales executive

1983 The Times and Sunday Times, financial sales executive

1987 Today, financial group head

1988 Times Newspapers Group, financial head

1989 Times Newspapers Group, head of display

1990 The Times, ad manager

1991 Sunday Times, ad manager

1993 Good Housekeeping, director of ad sales

1996 Esquire, publisher



From all the honeyed words being spoken, you’d think that Paul

Woolmington’s appointment as the new global media top banana - or, to

give him his proper title, worldwide strategic media director - at

Ammirati Puris Lintas (Campaign, 10 and 17 May) was just fine and dandy

with everyone. Wrong. At least as far as Initiative, Lintas’s specialist

media operation, is concerned, it has caused no end of grief.



Now it would be unfair to dwell on Initiative, since the affair raises

questions for all full-service agencies, but Initiative provides us with

a useful starting point.



If phase one of the media-buying wars was the rise of the independents,

phase two was the fight back by the full-service agencies, primarily

through dependants such as the Media Centre, Zenith and Initiative.



Abbott Mead Vickers’ intended purchase of PHD demonstrates another

solution. Be sure of one thing, AMV isn’t buying PHD for the volume,

although that’s a nice bonus. No, what it wants is its strategic

capability and credibility, as well as healthy margins.



Now we are about to enter the crucial phase three, in which buying is no

longer the issue - it’s probably impossible to separate the top ten

buying points anyway - but media planning and media strategy is. In

other words, this will be the territory in which the battle is fought,

which the big media independents concluded a while ago, hence the many

high-level strategic planner hirings by the likes of Zenith, CIA and

Carat and, on the other side, APL and AMV.



But here’s the conundrum: if, as everybody accepts, being a fully

rounded media operation means melding top-notch strategy and buying

together, and the increasing complexity of the media world means

strategy has to work hand in glove with the creative process (as Martin

Puris clearly believes), where does this leave the Initiatives of this

world? Answer: struggling to escape from the box marked ‘commodity’.

Ironically, of course, this is exactly what Initiative had been doing in

the past year, which must make it all the more galling when big brother

comes and steals its clothes.



Similarly, WPP must tackle this problem if it is to go ahead with its

plans to create a group-buying operation, leaving the agencies with the

planning and the strategy. Indeed, this may explain why it is taking it

rather a long time to find the right person to head it up.



And therein lies the root of the problem. The best media operators are,

by definition, going to want to be as close as possible to the heart of

the process - which means handling the strategy as well as the buying.



But pulling the strategy back into the creative agencies will make it

harder for the likes of Initiative and WPP to attract the highest

calibre operators. But, of course, without a credible strategic

offering, they will not be able to compete long-term as buyers.



Once the strategy element departs, the entire operation is demoralised -

and it’s slippery slope time.



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