Mrs Hytner senior must be the first mum to see both her sons profiled in
Campaign in the same year. First, Richard joined the Henley Centre as
its chief executive. This time it’s young Jim’s turn. The baby of the
family is the recently appointed marketing director of the biggest force
in UK broadcasting, Sky Television.
Imagine a job where you’re responsible for a brand with a turnover of
pounds 1 billion. Where everything you do is accountable virtually on a
weekly basis. Where what you’re peddling can change daily. Where the
market in which you’re working is changing almost weekly and where a
massive revolution is just around the corner. And where Rupert Murdoch
and the fearsome Sam Chisholm are your bosses.
Little Jim Hytner is the guardian of the colossal Sky brand. It is, he
claims, the most exciting and challenging job he can imagine doing.
Sky, he says, is a marketing-led company from the top down. His job is
to drive satellite subscriptions and to present Sky’s programmes in an
enticing way. His marketing strategy is built around creating viewing
events - such as a movie premire or football championship - and using
those as a platform for advertising and promotions. And he’s doing it
relentlessly, last week launching a pounds 13 million autumn advertising
blitz (Campaign, 30 August).
‘This is the sort of place where if you’re not worrying about next week,
then something will come and hit you on the back of the head,’ he
explains. ‘We market every week, week-in, week-out, and the call rates
to our subscriber management centre show almost instantaneously whether
what we’re doing works or not. That’s stressful, but also very
He refers often to the ever-changing nature of Sky Television, the need
to be always on his tippy-toes. ‘You don’t write strategic briefs at
Sky, you think it in your head, articulate it to Sam [Chisholm, the
chief executive] and then it’s put into action.’
Good job he’s got one of the most solid marketing backgrounds around
then, including posts at General Foods, Coca-Cola and Sega. ‘It would be
impossible to be Sky’s marketing director without having conventional
brand-building experience,’ Hytner admits. ‘I’ve taken that and used it
in a braver, more decisive way.’
Both professionally and personally, Hytner claims a few role models.
Primarily, his big brother, Richard, but also his former boss, Philip
Ley, Sky’s ex-marketing director. To an extent, Hytner has been in their
shadows. Richard, he says, has been the biggest influence on him. ‘He’s
a consummate professional and the nicest person I know. We’re very good
friends.’ On the other hand: ‘I am where I am with a great deal of help
from Philip. I’ve learned a lot from him and I like him so much.’ Mind
you: ‘Philip’s rock and roll. I’m more like my brother.’
Hytner is now emerging from behind the skirts of these two influences
and claiming his own spotlight. As Richard says: ‘Jim’s always been
rampantly driven, perhaps because he’s the youngest of us four children.
But he’s been playing catch-up for long enough.’
Still, stepping into the big shoes hasn’t been a breeze. Taking over
from Ley and establishing himself as the marketing director of Sky has
been the most difficult thing in his career to date, Hytner says.
As marketers at Sega at a time when Sega was huge and rolling on a
cutting-edge reputation, Ley and Hytner were perceived as the new
generation of trendy, rule-breaking, dangerous marketers. But really it
was Ley, the one with the ponytail, whom everyone remembered. Hytner
seemed at times like the puppy yapping at his heels; the short one. ‘One
of Jim’s disadvantages,’ Ley explains, ‘is that he’s going bald. I
always had too much hair.’
It’s probably because he played the second fiddle so well that the news
of his succession raised a few eyebrows. Brother Richard confesses to
feeling a bit nervous about the role Jim’s had thrust upon him. ‘I know
he’s genuine and sincere, and I was worried that would be abused at Sky.
But they seem to love him there.’
Hytner himself voices no doubts about his suitability for the role, and
says the time was right for him to wear the crown. Despite his modest
stature and his impish grin, Hytner has a self-assurance beneath which a
hard edge is tangible. He confesses to being an intense task master, a
description that Christine Walker, the chief executive of Sky’s media
buying company, Zenith Media, recognises. Hytner, she says, is not an
‘Some of the faxes he sends us are just fucking rude and you think, ‘Go
away, you little shit.’ He’s certainly not backward at coming forward.’
This upfrontness, Walker explains, is a prerequisite for working at Sky.
‘He’s totally committed and very determined, with this charming boyish
enthusiasm,’ Walker adds.
Ley describes Hytner as ‘deceptively strong, but with a little creative
sensitivity, which is endearing’. Jim, he says, is able to get away with
things others can’t. He remembers a business trip to Minnesota with the
Sky board. One afternoon, in a diner, Hytner decided to entertain the
crowd with a rendition of The Streets of London. As the rest of the Sky
board arrived they were greeted with the sight of Hytner standing on a
table crooning amid a gaggle of young women. ‘Jim’s always fancied
himself as a bit of a singer, like John Denver,’ Ley explains.
Jim is worried that this sense of humour doesn’t come across when we
meet. ‘I’m very serious about my work at Sky, but I am a laugh,’ he
says. But then it’s hard to be a bundle of fun when you’re talking about
pretty big issues, such as marketing a company with annual revenues of
pounds 1 billion and the introduction of digital broadcasting.
The next real challenge for Hytner - as if taking over from Ley wasn’t
enough for a while - will be launching the Sky brand into the digital TV
era. In the digital, multi-multi-channel TV world, Sky’s message will
have to adapt, and it will be up to him to ensure that Sky stands out
from the pack.
Hytner is convinced that it will become more important than ever to
ensure that Sky is at the forefront of marketing digital technology,
remaining the programme market leader and the pioneer of technical
innovation. ‘It’s hard to say this without sounding arrogant,’ Hytner
grins, ever unpretentious, ‘but we will continue to lead the market.’