CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/JERRY HILL; ‘Acceptable face of ITV’ prepares for next phase

TSMS’s new chief sees his promotion as just natural evolution.

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

Media.



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

that.’



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

(Headliner, p17).



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

activities.



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

tree’.



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

Jerry Hill.’



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