CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/HEADS OF TELEVISION - Television revolution strikes agencies' heads of TV. Veteran heads of TV Spivey and Lieberman are moving on, as Jenny Watts reports

In an ever-changing industry, which witnesses a constant flux of creatives and account handlers passing from agency to agency, the role of head of television has been seen as a reliable constant.

In an ever-changing industry, which witnesses a constant flux of creatives and account handlers passing from agency to agency, the role of head of television has been seen as a reliable constant.

But over recent weeks, there has been a changing of the guard. News that Frank Lieberman, the jewel in Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO's crown, and Howard Spivey, the celebrated stalwart of BMP DDB, are moving on from their positions as heads of TV, shifts the spotlight away from the creatives and suits who normally grab the headlines.

There has been a tradition among heads of TV to stay within the larger agencies for a number of years. Lieberman, who is moving from AMV to pursue personal projects, cites 'the challenge of building an agency and working with creatives' as his stimulus for staying in the job so long. Another bonus, according to Lieberman, is the diversity of tasks that the job entails. He recounts a much-repeated saying in the TV departments: 'If only the management knew what we did for a living.'

James Studholme, the managing director at Blink, believes it is the scarcity of good jobs that keeps people in them for a long time. 'There aren't that many,' he says. Nigel Foster, the European head of TV production at J. Walter Thompson, agrees that producers who eventually become heads of TV are often nurtured from within the department. 'Agencies grow their own along with the creative director, as there has to be a good relationship and a great bond between them.' However, some senior producers shun the need to cultivate an enduring relationship with the creative department. Others prefer to avoid the responsibilities that the job entails.

The longer a head of TV stays in the job, the better the consistency of output. During their tenures, Lieberman, Spivey and Lowe Lintas' Charles Crisp, who has held the head of TV role for 11 years, have all managed film production throughout the boom and bust years, producing consistent work.

However, Lieberman believes that the reshuffling within agencies is a healthy sign: 'It's part of the evolution of modern advertising. You can't be alienated from the younger generation.'

And although the business of making television commercials hasn't changed fundamentally since the advent of colour television in 1955, the wealth of digital and global possibilities that have opened up mean the industry is looking at new landscapes.

However, most agree that new technology is not fundamentally changing the nature of the job. 'The industry changes so much that it doesn't get static. You've got to keep abreast of changes,' Sarah Bales, the head of TV at WCRS, says. 'We're still using the skills we've learned conventionally; we're just controlling another piece of TV production buying.'

The business is becoming more accountable, however. 'We're working to much smaller time-scales and the traditional marketing budgets are shrinking,' Studholme says. He believes that agencies will, increasingly, eschew conventional commercials as they embrace convergent media such as cinematic games, which are part broadcast and part web. 'Agencies need to experiment. They'll have to spend more of their time commissioning new and different things,' he says.

Crisp believes that the increasingly technological field has not impacted heavily on his role - yet. 'There's not a huge amount of change as yet. At the end of the day, producers are facilitators of people's ideas. But TV departments will embrace change when it comes. You can't afford not to.'

And the plethora of channels, each targeted at different audiences, is forcing the change. The challenge now is to integrate everything, be it websites, digital TV or other resources, and to be aware of these options.

As Tim Page, the head of TV at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, says: 'You've got to keep up with what's going on and educate everyone involved.'

Along with changing technology, there is pressure from clients to extend existing budgets into more areas. 'It's like slicing up the same cake, but with more pieces,' Studholme says.

The global nature of the industry requires heads of TV to keep on top of trends and technologies occurring in all markets around the world. 'You have to look further afield and be broader in your outlook or you're reducing your talent base,' Foster states.

'The role is far more diverse than people realise. The industry changes so quickly. If you don't do the work yourself, you can't keep up with it,' Lieberman says.

The skills required to be a head of TV are varied. Heads must act as budget controller, diplomat and resourceful entrepreneur, someone who can approach production as the myriad of choices presents itself, at the same time as encouraging agencies to be pioneers.

It's a varied role, as Lieberman says. He cites a phrase once uttered to him: 'A head of TV is the keeper of the dream.' In this way, heads of TV regard developments as part of their role.

'The role has changed only in having to think faster and wider in the talent you're looking for. You have to be on top of what's available.

And the digital arena is only a part of understanding all the areas of production,' Foster says.


Name                   Agency                           Length of tenure

Howard Spivey          BMP DDB                                  20 years

Frank Lieberman        Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO                 14 years

Charles Crisp          Lowe Lintas                              11 years

Nigel Foster           J. Walter Thompson                       11 years

Mark Hanrahan          Saatchi & Saatchi                         6 years

Judy Ross              Publicis                                  6 years

Sarah Martin           McCann-Erickson                           3 years

Tim Page               Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R           1 year

Bruce McKelvie         M&C Saatchi                              7 months

Christine Clark        Ogilvy & Mather                          2 months


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