Funny girl Jacob brings some shine to SMG offering

SMG chief's cross-platform sales role is no thankless task, Alasdair Reid reports.

If there's a funnier woman than Kathryn Jacob in this business then she's definitely hiding her light under the proverbial bushel. Jacob's mischievousness and surreal sense of humour are legendary and, when she really gets going, her giggle is highly infectious. As with all people who trail laughter and a sense of fun in their wake, she's hugely popular.

But many in the industry believe she also had a large part to play in nailing Chris Evans, acting as Scottish Media Group's Rottweiler-in-chief in compiling the dossiers on which the company lawyers would base their case.

Not guilty, your honour,

Jacob responds. "It was a joint effort," she says. "Absolutely everybody chipped in." But she did give evidence before Justice Lightman at the Royal Courts of Justice as the last act in Evans' Virgin career was played out in June. She got her picture in The Sun and The Daily Telegraph. It was a nerve-wracking business, she admits.

That, some say, was the point at which she evolved beyond the commercial director role she'd filled at Virgin for the past three years. And thus, they add, she was rewarded with a new role -- managing director of SMG Access, a new cross-platform sales team that will offer advertising solutions across the company's portfolio of media properties: Primesight, Pearl & Dean, Scottish Television, Grampian and Virgin Radio.

The reward theory may be flawed, though. Some in the business need convincing that this new role is anything other than a thankless task. SMG's assets are disparate, they point out, especially compared with the cross-platform opportunities sold by comparable units at Emap and Viacom. Furthermore, SMG is late to this game and will probably expect far too much in terms of instant results. The conclusion is that this may not have been the career move Jacob would ideally have chosen.

Understandably, Jacob is hurt by such talk. But, she adds, it's easy to put the record straight. SMG is fully committed to this in terms of investment and Jacob took up her new role last week with a staff of three, rising soon to four. The new unit has been brought forward in thoroughly good order - it has evolved on the back of cross-media campaigns that SMG has already constructed for clients such as Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Boddingtons.

Jacob also convincingly sings the praises of SMG and its philosophy. "I've learned loads here and I've worked on all sorts of aspects of the business from platform [carriage] deals to the online stuff," she says. "It is a very fluid organisation and that's one of the reasons why SMG Access will work because it will have a fluid approach to finding what's right for clients. SMG is a fantastic company to work for because it takes the long view and genuinely understands the ebb and flow of the media business."

It's not hard to find people in the business who are willing to bet Jacob will succeed. "She's a pleasure to work with," Mark Swift, now the director of Soul Space but formerly Virgin Radio's sales director, says. "She's a whirlwind, full on, enthusiastic, full of energy. But she's mad as a hatter, of course."

Ask Kelvin MacKenzie. When the chief executive of The Wireless Group replaced his head of sales with his son Ashley, Jacob sent out a letter to clients informing them that her son Archie had just declined a similar role at Virgin. On reflection, Archie had come to the conclusion that the job would be too onerous for a three-year-old. If Kelvin wasn't amused, the rest of the industry was.

Jacob is one half of one of the media industry's famously married couples. Not so much Posh and Becks -- think Terry and June meets a sparkier version of Richard and Judy. Her other half is Iain Jacob, now the chief executive of Starcom MediaVest.

Working a four-day week to have more time with Archie, Jacob shoots home promptly every day. Although she's into music, claiming to have been a Virgin listener before she joined the company, she rarely uses the ligging opportunities that tend to come your way when you work for Virgin Radio.

In fact, the Jacob family is more likely to be found pushing a trolley around Waitrose in Putney than at the bar of Sketch. Not that Waitrose in Putney isn't racy in its own sort of a way. After all, you're more likely to turn round and find the likes of Nick Manning behind you in the queue. And Manning, the chief executive of Manning Gottlieb OMD, also counts himself a member of the Jacob fan club.

"Yes, she's hugely popular. But even more important than that is the fact that she's extremely knowledgeable about the industry, which is actually rare on the media owner side. I think people also underestimate how strong a character she is. I think the truth is that she's indestructible," he says.

The Jacob file

1987 Daily Telegraph, group head

1992 IPC Magazines TV listings titles, ad manager

1996 Virgin Radio, sales director

2000 Virgin Radio, commercial director

2003 Scottish Media Group, SMG Access, managing director

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