Headliner: Award winner swaps FHM for FM to nurture the Kiss brand

Mike Soutar will guide the hippest station in London, Anne-Marie Crawford says.

Mike Soutar will guide the hippest station in London, Anne-Marie

Crawford says.



Kiss 100 FM has decided it wants a PR present during my interview with

its new managing director, Mike Soutar. Such preciousness is usually

guaranteed to wind a journalist up big-time, but this time I can sort of

see the point.



After all, Kiss FM has come a long way in terms of positioning,

credibility and commercial success since its heady days of pirate

broadcasting back in the 80s.



From its official launch in September 1990, Kiss FM has grown into

arguably the biggest youth radio station, nay brand, in the hippest city

in the world. The challenge now is to keep up the momentum and take Kiss

on to the next stage of growth without sacrificing its vital edge.



The last thing it wants is for Soutar, the current editor of Emap

Metro’s FHM magazine, with no experience in radio, to open his mouth and

spoil it all. It’s also the last thing the 30-year-old Soutar wants. So,

before this interview can happen, there’s a great deal of to-ing and

fro-ing. Finally, Gordon MacNamee, Kiss FM’s founder and outgoing

managing director, gives us the all-clear. But Soutar won’t talk about

his plans for the future of Kiss FM because, well, he doesn’t really

know what they are yet.



To the media buyers and clients who have yet to meet him, such

shenanigans must sound rather prima-donna-ish. So, the man knows nothing

about radio, admits to having once been Mr December for a Jackie

magazine calendar and a quick glance at that picture could probably

convince many that Soutar is just a bit of a poseur, right?



Wrong. The man has got credentials. In less than three years under his

guidance, FHM has risen from nowhere to become the best-selling men’s

magazine in an increasingly competitive market. Not bad for a bloke with

no previous experience in the sector.



Emap wants him to reproduce that winning formula for Kiss FM. Soutar’s

role is to take over the day-to-day running of the radio brand as

MacNamee shifts his focus onto developing Kiss TV. He will nurture the

brand and make sure Kiss continues to stand out in an increasingly

crowded and competitive market (watch out for the launch of Xfm this

autumn).



MacNamee chose Soutar after an eight-month trawl for a managing

director.



He’d been looking for someone with fresh ideas, energy and creative

flair but, until then, hadn’t been too impressed with what he’d found.

The two men met on a working trip to South Africa and, while there,

struck up a firm mutual respect.



’One thing I hate about radio is all the crap people in it,’ MacNamee

says in his typically forthright style. ’Mike has a good understanding

of what a brand is and how different elements work within the brand. He

understood that whole thing.’



Soutar, for his part, is engagingly star-struck. ’Gordon Mac is an

incredible guy and the fact that he was willing to entrust me with the

brand he founded over 11 years ago is immensely flattering.’



Although, nominally, Soutar becomes managing director in just a few

weeks, he will not share the dreadlocked founder’s authority. It was

always unlikely that, having conceived the baby, MacNamee would then

relinquish all parental responsibility as Kiss moved into its

adolescence. So, in his newly created role as managing director of Kiss

Enterprises, MacNamee will retain access to Kiss FM and will be

responsible for its overall strategic direction.



’We need to see if we can do more. We need to re-examine everything and

look at other ways to promote, stage events and consider if the way in

which we advertise works,’ MacNamee says.



Soutar’s role is that of a facilitator charged with bringing the sales

director, programming director and finance director together as one

cohesive unit. ’I’m used to working with small groups of committed

people. My job is to make sure the different directors can do their jobs

better or differently.



I also want Kiss to be acclaimed as the hippest radio station in the

hippest city,’ Soutar says.



First, he has a steep learning curve to climb. Before he gets his feet

properly under the managing director’s desk, Soutar will embark on a

tour of Emap’s different radio stations around the country and will

spend time shadowing the managing directors there.



Low profile as he currently is, none of the media buyers I spoke to

expressed surprise at Soutar’s shift of medium. More than ever, this

business is about developing brands through ideas, energy and talent. As

Tim Schoonmaker, Emap Radio’s chief executive puts it: ’If radio is to

grow from a



5 per cent to an 8 per cent medium, it needs more people like Mike.’

’Nuff said.



THE SOUTAR FILE

1984         D. C. Thomson, editorial assistant

1986         Virgin Records, press officer

1988         Smash Hits, staff writer

1991         Smash Hits, editor

1994         FHM, editor

1997         Kiss 100 FM, managing director



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