TSMS’s new chief sees his promotion as just natural evolution.
I’m propped up in bed in my rollers and winceyette when we talk.
Jerry Hill, on the other hand, is already on top form and well on the
way to his first meeting of the day. It is 7.30am.
This is probably why he’s risen to the dizzy heights of chief executive
status at the ITV sales house, TSMS (Campaign, last week), while I,
well, I’m still waiting.
Hill - a whippet-thin giant among the media fat boys - has now been
confirmed as the new chief executive of TSMS when the current incumbent,
Tim Wootton, steps up and out into the role of chairman in January.
The appointment is no great surprise; Hill has been Wootton’s deputy for
years and, he believes, most TV buyers won’t even notice anything’s
changed when he takes over. He’s been punching above his job title
(currently managing director) for some time now, running the daily
business of TSMS. His promotion, he says, is ‘a natural evolution’. He
adds: ‘It’s not something that is going to change our lives, and it
won’t make a dramatic difference to our broadcasters or the agencies.’
What a salesman. Unlike some of his ITV colleagues, Hill’s approach is
one of muted sincerity, which even his mates admit can sometimes descend
into the pompous. But Hill’s taciturnity here belies the full
significance of Wootton’s step back from full control at TSMS.
Wootton is, after all, one of the guys who has most forcibly helped to
shape the current structure of TV sales. It was Wootton who launched
TSMS as the industry’s first TV sales house back in 1989, and who
thereafter set a gold standard for sales practice, training and service.
And Wootton has made it clear that Hill is the best guardian of the TSMS
culture. ‘Jerry’s the brightest of his generation,’ Wootton says. ‘It’s
his time now.’
As Wootton’s protege, Hill takes up the reins at a time when the
business of TV sales is again facing a major revolution, and this time
it’s a real biggie. The Broadcasting Act is just days away from
activation, digital television will be with us next year, and the
business of selling TV airtime is increasingly likely to be pulled into
a cross-media sell. Hill’s bottom will sit in the big chair at what must
surely prove to be the crucial moment in the company’s history. Hill
knows it. ‘This is an opportunity for me to put into place the next
phase of the TSMS story. It’s a phase which, to a large degree, I’m
going to own.’ Own it, he may, but what exactly will ‘it’ be?
TSMS is one of the three ITV sales houses. Its broadcaster clients
comprise seven ITV companies - Anglia, Meridian, HTV, Westcountry, STV,
Grampian, Ulster - and the Welsh service, S4C. So far, so complex, at
least compared with the more geographically sweet propositions of its
rival sales houses, Laser and Carlton. And while Carlton and Laser’s
parents own or have stakes in the stations they sell, TSMS has had to
tap dance around a number of broadcaster clients who might rather be
sold by another sales house, if only they could be accommodated. Only
Meridian and Anglia are actually owned by TSMS’s parent, United News and
Such a disparate range of regions and clients has undoubtedly made for a
difficult sell for TSMS, and not all of the broadcasters have been happy
all of the time. But as the Media Centre’s managing director, Jim
Marshall, points out: ‘Jerry’s had to be better than most to cope with
Still, Hill cannot yet know exactly what he will be left to cope with
once the Broadcasting Act becomes effective next month. Both HTV and
Westcountry are prime takeover targets and, should they be snapped up by
other TV companies, TSMS could well see a worrying erosion of its
position in a TV market where share is crucial. So it’s not surprising
that United is said to be interested in taking over HTV.
Then there are United’s plans for advertising sales co-operation between
its press interests (primarily Express Newspapers) and its TV division.
The company is said to be looking at the potential for cross-media sales
across its divisions and an umbrella company co-ordinating a joint sell
has been mooted. It’s ironic (or is it?) that Hill’s promotion should be
announced in the same week that the Express gets itself a new sales
director - that other acceptable face of media sales, Andy Jonesco
While TSMS is likely to remain a separate operation for quite some time
to come, it will increasingly be sucked into other areas of United’s
In many respects, Hill’s fortunes are tied to the decisions made by
United and its chief executive, Lord Hollick. Yet Hill will be pivotal
in adapting these developments into a coherent TV sell, and despite his
rather minute CV, many believe he’s the best man for the job.
Hill started at Anglia Television back in 1977. Graham Duff, now the
joint managing director of Zenith Media, joined Anglia on the same day.
‘We were little traffic clerks together,’ Duff remembers winsomely.
‘Jerry in his short trousers, me with flares and hair.’
The two have remained mates ever since. In his unerringly perceptive
way, Duff points out that Hill is ‘bloody tall’ (six feet five inches,
apparently) and claims that he’s raised his elocution a few notches
posher with every promotion. Duff, of course, has remained faithful to
his Essex heritage. Still, Duff manages, grudgingly, to praise Hill for
being ‘a terrific bloke, very bright, incredibly perceptive, top of the
Hill certainly seems to be one of ITV’s most popular sales figures. In
fact, more than one TV buyer chose to describe him as ‘the acceptable
face of ITV’. He comes smothered in the goodwill that TSMS has built up
among media buyers. For all the difficulties in managing their complex
portfolio, the approach of the Wootton/Hill team has won many admirers.
Mike Ironside, the ad director of the Daily Mail, believes that Hill is
the ‘best person in TV at the moment - a league apart. He’s a clear
thinker and, crucially, a real implementor. I can’t think of anything
bad to say about him, apart from the fact that he works in TV.’
And while some ITV sales people have closed their eyes to the erosion of
the channel’s audience in the face of competition from new channels,
Hill, buyers say, is better prepared for the future. Marshall identifies
in Hill ‘a sound strategic thinker with a real appreciation of the
pragmatic side of the business’.
It’s this more rounded approach to selling airtime that Malcolm Wall,
the deputy director of United Broadcasting and Entertainment and an old
friend (and so, quite possibly, doubly biased), believes really
qualifies Hill for his new job.
‘There is going to be a dramatic consolidation in ITV over the next year
or two, and the challenge for the stations is to get away from selling
airtime as a commodity,’ Wall says. ‘We have to look at new and
different ways of developing a commercial relationship with advertisers,
and Jerry’s measured, thoughtful approach will be a real asset.’ Wall
adds that he will be whisking Hill off to a Harlequins rugby dinner that
evening to really celebrate in style; respected TV executives by day,
over-age lads by night.
Criticism, when it comes, questions Hill’s ability to build a strong
team beneath him. TSMS has long suffered from a reputation as both a
good training ground and a good poaching ground. Its Hanger Lane
headquarters certainly don’t make for an attractive proposition for many
staff. But, location aside, some observers question Hill’s man-
management skills and point to the structure that Hill has put in place
beneath him as potentially the real weak point in his armoury.
And, while Hill may work like a dog, with all the changes ahead, it’s
the calibre of the people below him which will really count. As one
media director puts it: ‘Jerry’s promotion strengthens TSMS for the
challenges ahead, but what the company really needs now is the next