MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON; GWR’S SALES ARRANGEMENTS: GWR’s latest purchase forces sales strategies centre stage

Richard Cook investigates the conflicts arising from GWR’s constant expansion

Richard Cook investigates the conflicts arising from GWR’s constant

expansion



When Ralph Bernard, the chief executive of the GWR radio group, placed

all his national sales into Media Sales and Marketing in February, it

seemed a rare false step by the man who has overseen the relentless rise

of the Swindon-based service into an international operation.



The company has grown to take around 12 per cent of the radio market,

the second-largest player behind Emap. Then, at the end of last month,

GWR swooped again. It took a 33 per cent stake in Classic FM held by

Time Warner to add to its existing 17 per cent stake and take effective

control of the national station. The move has placed GWR on the brink of

another evolution, and one with advertising sales at its core.



GWR joined the Capital Radio-owned MS&M at around the same time as Emap

Radio, although Emap had not confirmed its decision when GWR signed up.

The resultant menage a trois has since seemed - to observers anyway - to

have favoured GWR the least.



There have certainly been a series of spats between GWR and its national

sales house. Soon after the move had been completed, GWR became

concerned that MS&M was favouring Capital-owned stations on some

national schedules.



MS&M managed to diffuse the potential problem swiftly enough, but the

stresses culminated in the issuing last month of a very public mea culpa

by the sales house’s chief executive, Paul Davies. In a lengthy letter

to agency chiefs, Davies apologised for a litany of poor business

practices.



When news broke of GWR’s takeover of Classic, observers became convinced

that it was not a question of whether GWR would establish its own

national sales operation, but when. Classic became the rock to which

GWR’s other geographically diverse stations could cling. Even a denial

in the most categorical terms has failed to dampen speculation. ‘GWR is

not considering a move to set up national sales,’ Bernard says. Agencies

remain unconvinced.



‘If you compare GWR with its main rivals, it becomes apparent that while

Capital, Emap and Scottish all have coherent regions to sell, the same

is not the case for GWR, and as such it makes a less obvious case for

setting up its own sales operation,’ one agency radio head points out.



But then Bernard had apparently prepared for the launch of an in-house

sales team for the group’s 35-strong stable of stations before handing

the task to MS&M. He hired Kevin Deakin, the former sales director of

Jazz FM, as a national sales consultant last December, working alongside

the head of national sales, Jonathan Bradley, with a brief to look at

the possibilities of a separate sales house. He left shortly after the

deal with MS&M was signed.



‘Of course GWR would like to force some commercial opportunities across

the group,’ CIA Medianetwork’s head of radio, David Fletcher, says. ‘But

the fact is that GWR is far more dependent on regional revenues than the

other big groups and national sales tend to be less of a priority.’



What isn’t in doubt is that the acquisition of Classic alters this mix,

even if the station would make an odd sales partner for some of GWR’s

local stations. ‘Classic would have to be left out of the mix,’ Fletcher

says. ‘The only station it really complements in the GWR portfolio is

LBC.’



And that is the point. Whether GWR does, despite the protestations of

its chief executive, break out into the national sales arena on its own,

it can be relied on to exploit any such synergies between its stations.

And it will do this with the same dynamism it has shown in an

acquisition spree that’s taken in local and national UK radio, as well

as stations in Europe and New Zealand, over the past three years.



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