Close-Up: Live issue - How should ITV advertise itself now?

As its £20m review gets underway, what role should an agency play in ITV's future, Ian Darby asks.

Last week, ITV called a review of its £20 million advertising account. As a result, the broadcaster's two-year relationship with M&C Saatchi will come to an end after the agency declined to repitch for the business, in a process being handled by the AAR.

The timing of the pitch may well be connected to wider issues at ITV. This week, its executive chairman, Michael Grade, unveiled his strategy for the broadcaster as it moves forward in an increasingly competitive environment.

Although much of the publicity focus since Grade's arrival in January has been on the need to improve the variety and quality of programming on the flagship ITV1 channel in the face of audience declines, the marketing of ITV is no longer all about one product. It also has a family of digital channels and the recently relaunched to promote.

The pitch has been called by David Pemsel, ITV's group marketing director, who replaced Clare Salmon eight months ago. It has kicked off before the arrival of ITV's new commercial chief, to whom Pemsel is expected to report.

Salmon had close ties to M&C Saatchi, and there is a feeling that Pemsel's decision to call a pitch could herald a new approach. He has already hired a digital agency (Dare was appointed in April), as ITV puts greater budgets into online activity, and he has put great faith in the effectiveness of the promotional activity that runs on-air on ITV channels and is created in-house by ITV Creative.

So what will be the role for the advertising created by the appointed agency? Speaking to Campaign earlier this year, Pemsel talked of the direction ITV's advertising strategy had taken and cited Marks & Spencer as an inspiration to the broadcaster, in that its ambition is to create a sense of quality for a mass-market audience.

He said: "From last summer to the end of last year, we were pitching the idea that a big mass-market brand can behave in an upmarket way without alienating its core."

He also indicated that, alongside a focus on pushing developments such as, there would be an increased concentration of budgets on a small number of "hand-picked" programmes that reflect positive elements of the brand.

Another factor to add to the mix could be ITV's need to rebuild trust with a significant proportion of its audience in the wake of the television phone scandals which hit several broadcasters.

Grade was more outspoken on the issue of addressing this than many of his rivals, saying: "We must continually remind ourselves that the trust which our audiences have in our fair dealing as broadcasters is not negotiable, whatever the pressure, editorial or financial."

ITV made a start in addressing this by dropping its standalone ITV Play channel, and there is a general sense of building confidence at the broadcaster, as ITV1 posted year-on-year audience increases in July and August (albeit in comparison with some dismal figures for 2006).

It has also finally had confirmation from the Office of Fair Trading that there will be a review of the controversial Contract Rights Renewal trading mechanism.

Now for the advertising review. It will be interesting to see if a traditional mix of posters and press advertising remains the most effective way forward for the broadcaster.

FORMER ITV BOSS - Mick Desmond, chairman, Channel TV, and former chief executive of ITV Broadcasting

"Like any kind of brand with new leadership comes a new style, and it's now clear that ITV is no longer just ITV1. It has a group of standalone channels that need their own identity, while needing a strong overarching brand.

"The way ITV extends itself into online or mobile has to have standout and it needs to find diverse ways to advertise. And what it needs is one, or in my view, several companies to work on different things. But if you haven't got a strong brand, then you'll lose everything. This is even more the case when everybody under 30 has grown up with more than four channels and sees ITV as just one of many."

AD AGENCY CHIEF - Hugh Cameron, director, Freud Communications

"ITV has an amazing heritage in our national culture, and if you believe in brand immortality, even with the pace of change in digital TV, then you have to believe ITV has the potential to remain a force in our national culture.

"ITV has a great record of creating hits, and in a fragmenting media market, the appetite for hits will remain as big as ever. People will continue to have the same desire to share gossip and talk about the big hits as they do today. It needs to develop the hits and a dynamic web experience to share stuff around in a powerful way. There is also a natural order to ITV's portfolio of brands. So far, this has not been presented cohesively in communications."

COMMS PLANNER - Tim Allnutt, partner, CHI & Partners

"There's been so much negativity surrounding the ITV brand recently, that you could be forgiven for thinking it had nothing positive to say about itself.

"The positive momentum behind digital brands and new technology platforms often casts ITV as yesterday's news. But the truth is very different. ITV is still the biggest commercial broadcaster and it still produces agenda-setting programmes that deliver massive audiences.

"ITV needs to reassert its position in the market with a confident celebration of its many success stories. After all, it has much to celebrate."

BRAND CONSULTANT - John Robson, partner, Sparkler

"Broadly, there are two alternatives. Route one is the classic route of hiring an ad agency, picking shows in primetime and then running posters featuring celebs and a pun in the headline. This can achieve short-term ratings success, but the most sophisticated ads for TV brands in a broader sense have been the idents for BBC and Channel 4.

"TV revenues are under severe, sustained attack, so maybe there are more modern ways of developing consumer and trade relationships. I'd get a digital agency with an understanding of consumers and content to work in a cross-platform way. This could be a chance for a big media player to do something differently."

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