HEADLINER: Crusading Smith prepares to stretch MediaVest’s potential - Linda Smith will round the rough edges at the media shop Claire Beale reports.

I’m barely through the door and haven’t even reached the office sofa before Linda Smith is talking girly. Where did I get my dress? So nice. How long have I been dying my hair? Suits me. Female bonding at its least subtle.

I’m barely through the door and haven’t even reached the office

sofa before Linda Smith is talking girly. Where did I get my dress? So

nice. How long have I been dying my hair? Suits me. Female bonding at

its least subtle.



Smith is nervous. Her boss, David Mansfield (chief executive of Capital

Radio, owner of Media Sales & Marketing where Smith is working her

notice as marketing director) has warned against the interview (even

with a sweetie like me). She tells me several times that the whole

interview thing makes her uncomfortable, the sort of bald admission

guaranteed to get a journo salivating. And it’s certainly not the

self-posturing bullshit you might expect from the new commercial

director of one of the most successful media operations in London.



But, unfortunately, Smith’s concerns prove utterly misplaced. Girl talk

aside, the new commercial director of MediaVest conducts herself with a

considered professionalism that sinks the heart of the profile

writer.



It’s soon clear why the unflashy MediaVest has chosen Linda Who? to be

the strategic brains behind its business development.



Plucked from the dying embers of the MSM operation after 13 years

working on the media owner side, Smith is not an obvious choice. Her

lack of agency experience, industry profile and senior client contacts

dictate a vertical learning curve at a time when MediaVest needs to

steam ahead.



Yet ask former colleagues about the 35-year-old Ms Smith and support is

legion. Andy Oldham, now commercial director at TDI, worked along side

Smith at MSM and reveals she was known as ’Mom’ in the office because

she was so supportive of the team around her.



Tess Alps, the executive chairman of Drum PHD, worked with Smith at the

old ITV sales house, MAS. She says: ’Linda is a passionate sales person

with a very sharp intelligence and a crusading zeal undaunted by the

toughest of confrontations.’ It gets better. Known in some quarters as

Joan of Arc, Smith is ’a visionary with high morals who likes a bit of a

scrap imbued with the faint smell of a martyr’s burning flesh’. Which

must be one of the most poetic eulogies afforded anyone in the pages of

Campaign.



At MediaVest Smith’s brief is to help build the company into a more

mature business, embracing new specialist divisions, start-ups and joint

ventures to create a rounded communications offering complementing the

formidable planning and buying operation at the core. It would be a

tough job for the most seasoned of operators and Smith confesses she

finds it ’a scary prospect’.



With MediaVest’s image still largely that of an unreconstructed buying

shop in a market where the lip service of strategic touchy-feely media

is becoming common currency, there’s plenty of graft ahead. Smith is

confident there’s substance in what they do at MediaVest but admits

there is room for some smartening up.



She points to a joint ownership proposition with Premier Sponsorship as

an example of the route MediaVest is preparing to take to develop beyond

simple planning and buying, although she insists that the agency won’t

go rushing into everything that’s fashionable on a whim. ’They haven’t

got an open cheque book down there, they have to prove there’s a return

for them and for their clients.’



But in a condensing global media market, MediaVest will become

increasingly marginalised unless it secures itself an ally. Quiz her on

such issues, though, and Smith is vague. ’I don’t think MediaVest needs

to join forces with anyone else to survive,’ she says hesitantly. ’It

has enough business without having to jump into bed with anyone else to

make it happen for them. It’s making it happen for itself.’



Apart from an appalling misjudgment of the senior management line-up

(the chief executive, Jim Marshall, is ’nice’, Robert Ray is ’a quiet

guy’ and his joint managing director, Chris Locke, is ’eminently

manageable’), Smith is on firmer ground discussing the UK operation, its

team and how she’ll fit in.



She acknowledges that being a woman did her no harm in securing the job

- MediaVest is seen as a lads’ place and is keen to address this. She’s

also confident that her marital credentials (her husband, Philip

Carling, her first boss at Yorkshire Television, is the commercial

director of the Football Association) will give her a currency when it

comes to boys’ talk.



She’s a doer, she says, who’s not interested in the limelight but loves

selling and wants to be on the winning side. At MediaVest she’ll get a

head start. ’This job is a fantastic opportunity. If I don’t make

anything out of it will be because I haven’t done a good job.’



The Smith file

1984

Yorkshire TV/MAS, business manager

1990

Thames TV, international sales manager

1992

Carlton TV, new-business manager

1993

MSM, marketing director

1997

MediaVest, commercial director



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