Channel 4 to triple ad sales staff selling direct to advertisers

Changes are part of wider shake-up of 4Sales.

Allan: 'We’ve got to do a better job of explaining the effectiveness of TV directly to advertisers'
Allan: 'We’ve got to do a better job of explaining the effectiveness of TV directly to advertisers'

Channel 4 is to triple the number of staff selling directly to advertisers as part of a wider shake-up of its ad sales team, 4Sales.

Jonathan Allan, chief commercial officer at Channel 4, said 4Sales wants to get "closer" to advertising clients and understand "their business challenges" and to sell "the benefits of TV" directly to them, rather than relying solely on agencies to act on the broadcaster’s behalf.

4Sales, which employs about 225 people, plans to increase the number of staff in the client-facing part of the main ad sales team from about five to between 15 and 20.

Matt Salmon, head of agency and client sales, is looking to hire a new deputy head of client sales to lead the client sales strategy that will focus on growing existing client investment, "getting them into digital and data" and winning new-to-TV advertisers, according to Allan.

4Sales needs "more people with client marketing and media planning skills", Allan said, echoing similar moves by ITV and Sky, which have both appointed heads of planning in their sales operations in the past year.

Salmon’s top team now includes agency and clients leaders Chris Braithwaite, Angus Mitchell (both of whom have been promoted), Kirsten Gillard (who was previously at ITV) and Ewan Douglas, head of nations and regions sales, in Manchester.

The digital sales team under Jonathan Lewis, head of digital and partnership innovation, is also expanding and will work more closely with the main ad sales team that looks after linear TV.

For the first time, all sales staff from "mid-level" downwards will work across linear and video-on-demand "to enable closer integration of total AV campaign delivery".

Allan played down suggestions that such a move was long overdue, pointing out that many agency buying operations have been structured separately until recently.

David Amodio has been promoted to deputy head of digital and innovation and Lewis is creating three new roles to handle Channel 4’s new data-matching product (which allows advertisers to combine their data with Channel 4’s viewer data to create custom audiences) and to improve programmatic capability.

Allan said Channel 4’s recently agreed partnership with Sky’s AdSmart – which will allow advertisers to target viewers by demographic, location and other interests via the Sky platform – will probably take "nine to 12 months" to get going. 

In other changes, 4Sales has promoted Rupinder Downie to brand partnerships leader, responsible for editorial partnerships and sponsorships. 4Sales is to appoint a branded entertainment and creative leader, who will oversee branded entertainment and PL4Y, its content creation and stategy arm.

Both leaders will report to Lewis.

Channel 4’s branded entertainment team recently hired Matt Ford, formerly of Unilad, to focus on creating social-first content for platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat.

Using Channel 4’s social reach to distribute content will take the broadcaster into a similar space as digital content companies such as Jungle Creations and Vice Media, Allan said.  

He added that the job changes would be broadly "neutral" in terms of headcount after the restructure, which began at the start of 2019, when Campaign reported that Channel 4 had begun a consultation with staff.

The importance of direct relationships with advertisers

Allan explained the rationale for investing in direct client relationships: "We think we’ve got to do a better job of explaining the effectiveness of TV directly to advertisers, and we’ve got to do that ourselves and we can’t rely on agencies do that for us.

"We’ve also got to change the way we sell television in a world where clients are more focused on short-term results and effectiveness. We’ve got to change how we sell television to those clients."

Allan added that "we need different skills ourselves to be able to talk to clients in a better way", noting that Google and Facebook have built up large client-facing teams.

Digital, direct-to-consumer businesses that are focused on customer acquisition and performance marketing have "a completely different understanding of how marketing works to a P&G" or other established FMCG brands.

"For me, it’s nothing to do with what agencies do or don’t do," Allan said. "We’ve got to take more responsibility for understanding the current environment and having the people to be able to tell a sales story."

Allan insisted that the investment in more client-facing staff was "not about blaming agencies", which are responsible for the vast majority of ad money spent with 4Sales and its partners, the UKTV portfolio and BT Sport.

However, he said agencies "have such a broad spread of media to plan and look after", rather than just TV: "They’ve got a broader approach. We need to make sure TV gets its voice [heard]."

Tough market

4Sales brings in about £1.2bn a year in ad sales, making it roughly joint fourth in the UK market alongside Sky Media and behind Google, ITV and Facebook.

TV is facing a tough time because linear audiences, particularly the young, are migrating online – a structural shift that has been exacerbated by Brexit uncertainty.

Channel 4’s own advertising and sponsorship revenue rose marginally to £929m last year, with digital climbing £14m to £138m and linear TV ad sales dropping £7m to £791m.

Allan expects the TV market to drop about 4% this year, but said a lot hinges on November, a crucial month when many retailers unveil Christmas ad campaigns and the fallout from any decision on Brexit at the end of October would be clearer. He has pencilled in a 2% drop in October and 5% in November. 

The restructure of 4Sales is part of a wave of change across Channel 4 under Alex Mahon, who became chief executive in October 2017 and has given an interview in the October issue of Campaign, which is out this week.

Mahon says the broadcaster is having to cope with three simultaneous, major changes: the periodic need for creative renewal of its programming; the mass relocation of jobs from London to new offices in Leeds, Bristol, Glasgow and Manchester; and the shift in viewing habits from scheduled TV to on-demand and streaming.

"Three sets of change is a lot for any organisation to deal with at the same time," Mahon admitted, adding: "We still really believe in advertising. We still think that audiences want to have things free at the point of use with advertising in it."

Most of the jobs in 4Sales remain in London, although the traffic division, which co-ordinates the broadcast of ads, is moving to Leeds.

4Sales has been among the best-performing commercial teams in UK advertising, getting shortlisted for the last five years in a row for Sales Team of the Year at the Media Week Awards, including in 2015, when it won. 

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