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
‘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
Nothing’s certain, though, and for now Tunnicliffe is having to work
really hard on those plates.