Media Spotlight: Emap's Bleakley ventures into the great outdoors

What can Viacom offer Tim Bleakley that Emap can't? Alasdair Reid investigates.

Landing Tim Bleakley is a bit of a coup for Viacom Outdoor. As the broadcast sales director at Emap Advertising, Bleakley was (actually still is, until mid-November) at the cutting edge of the media world - that effortlessly cool zone where the music industry meets the latest in digital broadcast technologies.

Bleakley, who will join as the joint managing director (partnering the existing joint managing director, Andrew Oldham), has been central to Emap's success in building commercial momentum behind the company's digital radio stations. And many were beginning to suspect he was irredeemably a radio man, having first made his name with Kelvin MacKenzie's The Wireless Group.

What's more, he had the best of both worlds at Emap because the company's policy is to offer innovative, cross-media packages targeting discrete, youth-oriented audience groups. He's been at the centre of building that proposition too. In other words, never a dull moment.

Which he's trading in for the transport advertising business. Which is all well and good - but you'd expect Viacom to be paying him shed-loads of money for the privilege.

That, at least, might be your first instinct. Actually, don't even think about saying that in Bleakley's hearing - he says he wants to knock prejudices such as that squarely on the head.

He states: "The challenge is in dispelling some of the myths about out-of-home media. There are lots of commercial initiatives in radio but in outdoor over the next few years I think there are going to be even more.

Outdoor is similar to radio in the ability it has to re-invent itself constantly. Digital is about to make a big impact but look also at the recent past and all the new formats and sizes that have been coming along."

Bleakley is a direct replacement for Clive Punter in the company's UK twin managing director line-up. Thus, his responsibilities will be on the sales and marketing side, while Oldham will continue to look after operational functions such as franchises and delivery.

For instance, Oldham is heading the company's bid for the newly amalgamated Transport for London franchises. Viacom already holds the London Underground and Docklands Light Railway franchises but is now bidding for these plus other TfL properties such as bus shelters, buses and roadside locations in one consolidated pitch.

Meanwhile, Punter has been promoted to chief operating officer across Viacom Outdoor's European businesses. According to Tom Goddard, Viacom Outdoor Europe's chief executive, the company has grown rapidly in many continental European markets and Punter's role will be to export best practice from the UK market and bring a greater degree of standardisation across the company's European network.

He adds: "Clive's role will be to have ownership of revenue generation and to leverage the relationships we have with the big six media buying giants."

To many observers in the UK, the appointments make perfect sense. As one puts it: "As for Clive, he is a corporate animal, a classic suit. He loves it and he's bloody good at it. He scrubs up well at conferences, loves all those internal management seminars that Viacom goes in for - Viacom is a notoriously meetings-obsessed company - and you can imagine him being in his element at board meetings."

But actually, it is Bleakley's appointment that will be the focus for most speculation. "For a media sales bloke, he's actually quite creative," Marc Mendoza, the chief executive of Media Planning Group, says. As a friend of Bleakley's, he's duty bound to offer faint praise. He continues: "The Emap Advertising people are innovative in the way they can come up with solutions across their whole portfolio of interests."

Other observers say it's interesting, too, that Viacom isn't a million miles away from Emap in terms of sales philosophy. You could imagine a situation in which Bleakley was able to get busy with other media within the Viacom stable too.

Neither Bleakley nor Goddard will comment on such idle (and, they infer, premature) speculation, but Goddard can confirm that digital techniques are about to enter the medium in a big way. One of Bleakley's most important tasks will be to sell that particular sizzle to the advertising industry.

But is this an astute career move for Bleakley, a man widely regarded as a rising star? There might be similarities between the two companies but Viacom, some say, is far more enthusiastic about the formal niceties of corporate life. Emap, you have to suspect, is keener on improvisation, far more comfortable flying by the seat of its pants.

Actually, though, the more you consider it, the better it looks. At Emap Advertising, Bleakley's promotion prospects were limited so long as Dave King, the managing director, remained ahead of him.

And perhaps radio won't be all that exciting over the next 18 months or so. As the current wave of consolidation works its way through, the major players could take their eyes off the ball as they focus on internal restructuring.

Meanwhile, in crude revenue terms, the out-of-home sector has being growing rapidly over the past year, largely because it has succeeded in selling itself as the last true broadcast medium. As budgets have come back, outdoor has been pretty much at the front of the queue.

As Bleakley himself puts it: "I had an exciting and enjoyable time at Emap. It's just that an opportunity came along, a bigger job in a bigger company in a bigger medium."

VIACOM'S UK CONTRACTS

- London Underground

- Docklands Light Railway

- National rail services:

Central Trains

Chiltern Railways

First Group

GNER

Merseyrail

- Buses, trams and coaches across the UK

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