CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/MIKE TUNNICLIFFE; Media professional tests his mettle in CIA storm

Mike Tunnicliffe hopes he can steer CIA into calmer waters, Claire Beale writes

Mike Tunnicliffe hopes he can steer CIA into calmer waters, Claire Beale


Mike Tunnicliffe spent last weekend at Disneyland Paris with his family,

swapping one Mickey for another (Desmond, chief executive of Laser

Sales, for Mouse, cartoon character) in a brief respite from what must

be one of the toughest phases of his career.

This time last year, the name Mike Tunnicliffe equalled portly bloke,

wicked sense of humour, case of hair loss, impressive media thinker just

getting himself cosy as managing director of CIA Medianetwork.

Right now, though, Tunnicliffe’s name is more likely to be associated

with one of TV’s most public trading disputes. Tunnicliffe is at the

centre of CIA’s battle with Laser (Campaign, last week). Laser says CIA

owes pounds 832,453 after failing to meet its TV deals with the sales

house in 1995.

It’s been a dirty fight, and though the end may now be in sight (an

offer to settle the dispute is on the table from CIA), the damage to

the reputations of both CIA and Laser could last for quite some time to

come. And while Chris Ingram, CIA’s chief executive, remains a shadowy

figure working to settle the dispute behind the scenes, if anyone has to

put his face between the shit and the fan on this one, it’s Tunnicliffe.

Tunnicliffe - Tuna, Tunny or Tunners to his legion of friends - is a

big, beefy bloke, the sort of guy who looks like a bit of a bruiser.

Martin Bowley, the managing director of Carlton UK Sales, sees

Tunnicliffe somewhat as ‘a victim of circumstance’ when it comes to the

Laser dispute. Wrong place, wrong time. But it’s hard to imagine Tunners

as a victim. In many ways he is your typical media man - sassy,

aggressive (when required), laddish (off-duty).

Bob Wootton, head of media at the Incorporated Society of British

Advertisers, hired Tunnicliffe back in his days as media director of

Horner Collis in the mid-80s. Wootton says that Tunnicliffe is ‘good to

be around, he likes a party and he’s got a great, dry sense of humour,

loves a wind-up’. Stories abound about Tunners’ sense of fun, his

penchant for pranks. There’s the one about him and Simon Mathews, the

managing director of Optimedia, romping naked on a beach with lighted

rolls of newspaper up their arses. Neither, of course, would dream of

indulging in such infantile behaviour now they’re grown-ups.

Observers say Tunnicliffe’s time at the CIA helm has tempered much of

his exuberance, that he’s more measured now, a more polished politician,

and more the sort of guy senior clients feel comfortable with. Wootton

adds that ‘there came a point when Mike stopped talking parochially and

became a mature media player’.

Friends like Mathews combine genial ribbing with praise for Tunnicliffe

the media professional: ‘Mike has an outstandingly good media brain.

I’ve got unequivocal admiration for him.’ Mathews also wastes no time in

setting the record straight on Tunnicliffe’s character. ‘He’s got a lot

of integrity as an individual. The recent inference that he personally

isn’t straight couldn’t be further from the truth.’

Both Tunnicliffe and his opposite number in the Laser dispute, Mick

Desmond, have risen to the challenge of the dispute between them with a

statesman-like approach, in public at least. For anyone with an ear to

both sides of the story, it’s hard to give allegiance.

Yet while Tunnicliffe may have found himself up to the neck in the

effluence of the TV trading market, old Tunners is not a TV man. Since

starting out as a sales executive on News Freight Weekly -and clearly

impressed by the glamour of it all - he’s been Mr Non-broadcast, a fact

that has surely made the complexities of CIA’s dispute more difficult to

deal with.

‘I’ve learned a hell of a lot very, very quickly,’ Tunnicliffe admits,

‘a lot about the legal mechanism, about the TV market and how to develop

strategies to try to settle this dispute.’

His mates praise Tunnicliffe for maintaining his good humour throughout,

however. ‘It’s impossible not to respect the way Mike’s kept his spirits

up, despite the fact that he’s looking a bit shell-shocked,’ one says.

Tunnicliffe himself admits that the past few weeks have been tough. It’s

been, he says, ‘a particularly frenetic and challenging time. One I

certainly wouldn’t want to repeat’.

It’s certainly unfortunate that at a time when Tunnicliffe should be

having his first clear run at proving that CIA can be a success -

without the structural distractions which have plagued the company for

the past couple of years - this new crisis has again deflected his


Yet some have attributed the current crisis to Tunnicliffe’s management,

as he has so far failed to replace the broadcast director, Josh Dovey,

who left at the beginning of this year. But others point out that the

seeds of the crisis were laid at a time when the company did have a full

TV team in place.

All Tunnicliffe himself will say is: ‘It’s not easy to run a media

company, you have to be able to do ten jobs at one time. My job is to

make sure all the plates are spinning.’

Plates have been wobbling at CIA for some time now. But this could be

Tunnicliffe’s best chance to prove himself one of the industry’s top

media men. If he can pull his company through (with the help of Ingram

and Mike Elms, CIA’s executive chairman), hold on to business and

weather the storm, it might just be that CIA emerges in a stronger, more

confident position.

Nothing’s certain, though, and for now Tunnicliffe is having to work

really hard on those plates.


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