ITV has had a rather chequered history when it comes to client relationships. Down the years, its sales teams have found it difficult enough staying on the right side of civility in their day-to-day contact with media planners and buyers, but they have found it especially difficult to get their heads around the fraught and delicate business of direct advertiser contact.
Back in the days when there were three ITV sales houses, top sales people made their first forays into this space for all the wrong reasons. Paranoia played a large part - ITV acted almost solely in the belief that top clients were having the wool pulled over their eyes.
ITV came to the conclusion that agencies made choices based on what was best for their agency deals rather than individual clients; and it was certain media auditors were another malign influence, obsessed with superficial measures such as cost and totally ignorant of concepts such as value.
So initial contacts were sometimes made in a spirit of righteous anger, which did not always go down well. And a spirit of entente cordiale was hardly enhanced when top advertisers used these meetings as opportunities to lambast the network for not doing enough to control runaway inflation.
Back to the drawing board. And things looked a lot more promising when the network, now consolidated as a single company, revisited the issue under its sales boss, Graham Duff - a man who had previously been a media agency boss.
Having announced he intended to reinvent ITV sales culture, he appointed Justin Sampson, the former Radio Advertising Bureau managing director, as his customer relationship marketing director in August 2004. In turn, Sampson persuaded Mark Trinder, the head of marketing communications at Woolworth, to become his head of advertiser relationships.
It might have worked. But Duff resigned in September 2005, having despaired of effecting real change; Sampson's position soon became untenable. He announced his departure in February this year.
So, here we are again on the verge of a new era. Last week, Nicky Buss, formerly the client services director at Research International, was unveiled as ITV's advertiser development director. She reports directly to the network's commercial director, Ian McCulloch. But she is not alone.
1Trinder keeps his role. He and his team of 15 will now report to Buss. The team is split into three: Kim Gilroy heads account management; Peter Marsh is the controller, ITV Futures; Maria-Isabel Jassies is the senior account manager, category intelligence.
2At Channel 4, Mike Parker heads a strategic sales and trade marketing department with a headcount of 11 - and the sales director, Andy Barnes, also takes a keen interest. This unit is widely acknowledged to be the best in the business - adept not only at the big-picture promotion of TV as a medium, but also at making advertisers think about ways to forge innovative links with specific programmes. Direct client contact has been instrumental in driving forward a number of deals, notably the Big Brother Golden Ticket initiative in partnership with Kit Kat. Channel 4 sources say this sort of deal has to happen quickly if it is to happen at all and agencies are not always able to move that quickly.
3Agencies are full of praise for five, which has no formal advertiser development unit. Direct client contact is handled on an ad hoc basis by the sales director, Kelly Williams.
4Arguably, Sky Media has the most elaborate structure, perhaps reflecting the fact that it not only has programme- and channel-specific opportunities to market but also involves itself in a whole range of sophisticated technology-related issues relating to the Sky Digital platform - for instance: interactivity, Sky+ viewing habits and high-definition television. So it has advertiser-facing staff in two divisions. First, Graham Appleby, the head of commercial partnerships, is located in the revenue-generation group, headed by the deputy managing director, Paul Curtis. Appleby has a staff of four. Second, there is the Insight division. Headed by Jeremy Tester, it boasts a staff of 25.
5Nicola Jones is the associate director of client development at the Flextech sales house, IDS. She has a staff of five, but the company regards this aspect of its activities as extremely important, so this number could soon increase.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- These days, broadcasters are able to offer a whole range of opportunities outside of spot and sponsorship - promotions, interactivity, internet tie-ins - and many advertisers like to stay abreast of TV's evolving contribution to their total communications needs.
- Some value the opportunity to interact directly with a broadcaster when the right sort of opportunity comes along, and speed of thought is essential - witness Kit Kat's Big Brother promotion in recent weeks.
- Privately, and in the nicest possible way, media buyers tend to be scathing about the whole notion of broadcasters talking directly to advertisers.
- Anything that threatens to cut agencies out of the loop is alarming, obviously, but they insist their concerns are stimulated by something more than crude self-interest. The simple fact of the matter, they insist, is they are best placed to see the bigger picture.
- Agencies are especially sarcastic about broadcast chief executives who appoint advertiser development directors and then immediately take a "show me the money" approach in assessing the effectiveness of this role.
- On the other hand, they praise the seamless efforts of both Channel 4 and Sky. As Andy Roberts, Starcom's client managing director, puts it: "It's a very good sign that ITV's commercial director, Ian McCulloch, has recognised there is a need for a person of this calibre in this role."
- More revenue. If it works. No-one can really prove that it doesn't.