Media Perspective: Why there's nothing retro about C4's hire of TV veteran Perry

I'm fond of the bittersweet ending to the 1985 Ron Howard movie Cocoon. The one where the old-timers leave Earth for a place where they will never become ill, never age and never die.

Perhaps Andy Barnes, the sales director of Channel 4, has convinced Mick Perry, the veteran TV buyer, that the C4 sales floor is that place. Because, last week, C4 announced the jaw-dropping news that Perry, who has spent the past three years in semi-retirement after 22 years as a TV buyer at Interpublic, is re-emerging as its head of airtime sales.

As I've already written online, Perry's appointment is a surprising but not altogether unwelcome one, coming as it does as part of a wider C4 sales restructure. While Perry and his new boss Barnes (a veteran of C4 since it launched its own sales team in 1993) might be the oldest swingers in town, there is likely to be a value in this given that the TV trading model has remained remarkably resilient even in the face of greater agency and broadcaster consolidation. As Barnes puts it: "Mick's a fantastic appointment because he knows trading inside out and, for the short term, and by that I mean the next 24 months, nothing's going to change."

Barnes argues that C4 has to get the trading side of things right before anything else and then the rest of the restructure is aimed at developing better day-to-day relationships with advertisers and agencies. Hopefully, then, C4 has listened to criticisms that its confidence can border on arrogance and that, post-Big Brother, it risks looking expensive against some of its rivals.

Broadly, the new structure has collapsed separate departments in C4 sales in favour of one that mirrors those of the more progressive media agencies, which have already moved to integrating their buying teams across media. It's hardly a revolution and I'm sure Boston Consulting Group was paid well to reassure C4 that this blatantly obvious move was the correct one.

It will be interesting to see if C4 can maintain the momentum it has built at the more creative end of TV thinking with its bespoke strategic solutions and sponsorship units, which have been closed in the restructure. It's encouraging that senior heads of department such as Mike Parker and David Charlesworth are staying on but now they will need to work hard to ensure creative thinking is not totally subsumed by trading.

I like the fact that C4's changes mean that all sales staff could potentially be involved in broader skillsets and that TV sales could, as a result, become a more valued, skilful, less monotonous job. The danger is that this is a flight of fancy given the wider picture of an increasingly commoditised TV trading system.


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