CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/CHANNEL 4’S ADVERTISING - C4 aims for element of surprise in its advertising. But will a film promotion company be able to fit the bill? Claire Cozens reports

Few outside of Britain’s film industry will have heard of Jim Sturgeon and Chris Fowler. But no-one who has ventured outside their front door in recent years can have failed to notice their work which includes poster campaigns for Trainspotting and Pulp Fiction.

Few outside of Britain’s film industry will have heard of Jim

Sturgeon and Chris Fowler. But no-one who has ventured outside their

front door in recent years can have failed to notice their work which

includes poster campaigns for Trainspotting and Pulp Fiction.

Last Wednesday, the founders and joint managing directors of the film

promotion company, the Creative Partnership, were charged with creating

the advertising for Channel 4.

The Creative Partnership will handle press, television and radio

advertising as well as below-the-line work, and will promote talk shows,

documentaries, drama series and films for Channel 4. It will become lead

supplier of the station’s advertising, but will be one of a dream team

of companies responsible for building the station’s brand - with further

appointments expected soon.

Nevertheless, the appointment is a pretty risky one. As just about the

only film promotion company in the UK, the Creative Partnership has

developed a reputation for original thinking with its campaigns for

independent British films. But it is untested in any area other than

film and video.

It took David Brook, Channel 4’s director of strategy and development,

nine months to find a replacement for BMP4, the station’s agency for the

past 16 years. BMP4’s advertising for Channel 4 has won a number of

awards and enjoyed a high profile. The agency declined to comment on its


But it has suffered from its success as other television stations have

copied its poster style, which now looks a little tired.

The decision to use a group of companies rather than a single agency

will be a familiar strategy to those who followed Brook in his last job

- marketing director of Channel 5. There he pioneered the ’virtual

agency’ approach, putting together a team of talent from smaller

agencies and marketing services companies including Mother and

Michaelides & Bednash. The innovative approach was hailed as a success

and Brook is now hoping to repeat it.

Brook says he began by looking at the ads he liked and realised that

most of them were posters of films. ’What is different about these ads

is that they use the intrinsically entertaining quality of what they are

promoting rather than trying to overlay an ad construct,’ Brook


’Television has never really used that approach before and that is part

of the appeal - it will make us stand out from the rest.’

Fowler says he is always being asked why television programmes are

marketed so differently from films. ’Television advertising tends to be

very broad-based and soft whereas film marketing picks out the

surprising, the controversial, the never-before-seen,’ he comments.

’Channel 4 can afford to take the riskier strategy.’

Brook believes that media advertisers are obsessed with finding slogans

and messages to promote their products, but that in doing so they

actually obstruct the message they are trying to get across. ’You don’t

need to invent a personality for entertainment - it already exists,’ he


’The Creative Partnership is very good at looking at a film, identifying

the essence of its appeal and communicating it.’

Also part of the appeal must be that while BMP4’s client list looks

pretty conservative - Marks & Spencer and the Bingo Association to name

but two - the Creative Partnership tends to deal in innovative,

risk-taking projects such as Trainspotting and Gary Oldman’s Nil by

Mouth. All of which will please Michael Jackson, the chief executive of

Channel 4, who is known to want to reinforce the radical reputation of

the channel.

The Creative Partnership was set up by Fowler, an ex-copywriter, and

Sturgeon, a former producer, in 1978, when cinema attendances in Britain

were at an all-time low and film promotion virtually non-existent. It is

Europe’s largest film promotion agency.

Its clients include several Hollywood film studios as well as small UK

distributors and it has handled everything from the theatrical release

of the last Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies, to the video release of

Channel 4’s cult Friday night cartoon series, South Park. The company

arranges a film’s entire campaign, from trailers to posters.

One of the Partnership’s first challenges will be to promote Channel 4’s

burgeoning film interests. Film Four will be an important brand over the

next year, with the launch of a pay-television arthouse film channel and

the expansion of Channel 4’s newly created standalone film division.

The company’s first campaign will be for Ultraviolet, a drama serial

about the paranormal due to be screened this September. But while its

ability to handle film and drama is well proven, it remains to be seen

whether the Creative Partnership is capable of promoting a television


Brook says he sees the brand as an accumulation of programmes. Just as

people formed an opinion of Channel 5 through its programmes, so shining

a light on Channel 4’s drama serials, films and documentaries will

enable it to build up its brand organically.

The budget is not yet known but it is expected to be significantly

higher than the pounds 3 million Channel 4 spent off-air through BMP4

last year. Used to the cash-strapped film industry Fowler has, he says,

’never had a client like this. Not only do they like our ideas, they

actually have the money to produce them.’

Leader, p23.

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