He’s back. And this time it’s serious. Bloody serious - UDV lost,
reputation tarnished, future bleak. Mike Tunnicliffe is back with a
vengeance, and he needs to be if he’s going to sort out Western
The man who quit CIA Medianetwork last autumn walked into Western this
week as managing director; out of the fire and into the urn? Tunnicliffe
the masochist. The man likes a challenge.
It’s not that Western has been haemorrhaging business exactly, just that
it hasn’t moved forward one perception point since going solo last
New business has been as thin on the ground as hairs on Tunnicliffe’s
head; all hopes of salvaging status by winning the crucial UDV pitch
evaporated when Carat emerged triumphant; and the company has no clear
brand position, no profile and no real muscle.
Then along comes Tunnicliffe - no white knight but he knows a thing or
two about chargers. In many ways he’s the antithesis of what came before
at Western. Bigger, badder, balder than Western’s former chief, Mike
Smallwood, Tunnicliffe’s a doer who knows how to play the media game. He
is a streetfighter used to scrapping it out in the dog-eat-dog world of
media independence, not cosseted (or compromised) by the full-service
ethos. He knows how to be a bit of a bruiser - exactly what Western
needs if it’s to get itself a hard commercial edge.
Take TV trading, for example. Western, and its predecessor, the Lowe
Howard-Spink media department, staked its reputation on quality buying
in the face of the crack negotiation skills of its competitors - a
defensive positioning that always sounded a petulant note.
Ironically, CIA, under Tunnicliffe’s tenure got cremated trying to be
too clever with its TV trading, eventually over-trading to the extent it
had to hand pounds 1.8 million back to the ITV sales house, Laser.
Tunnicliffe came out of the fiasco unscathed but it meant he couldn’t
exactly claim his time there as a runaway success. ’For me personally,
there’s unfinished business,’ he admits. He feels he made a lot of
positive changes at CIA, but agrees that the whole TV trading issue blew
him off course. He says it’s not exactly that he has something to prove,
but ’I like to win and be seen to win’.
In the context of which, Western may not seem like such a duff call.
’I was looking for a challenge,’ says Tunnicliffe, ’an opportunity to
make my mark, stamp my own authority.’ Not that we can expect blood on
the carpet within a week. Tunnicliffe’s giving himself to the end of the
year to get under the skin of the place, coming out all guns blazing in
But he insists Western isn’t a bad business. ’Western’s just never
really marketed its strengths. It’s got excellent planning and strategic
skills, which are a key point of differentiation in a market heading
rapidly towards consolidation.’ And, unlike some of its more lumpen
competitors, Western’s bland anonymity means it can be more nimble.
’It’s more like turning round a rather fast speed boat than an oil
tanker,’ Tunnicliffe says. Of course, Lowes left it rather too late to
launch Western, a relative newcomer fighting in a market of well-
established media brands, but Tunnicliffe prefers to see the company’s
creative heritage as an advantage. ’There are people at Western who
understand the whole advertising process, who don’t just see media in
isolation, and that’s a skill base we can offer to other creative
Despite Western’s failure to attract new business, Tunnicliffe claims
its small but perfectly-formed client base (Tesco and Vauxhall are the
biggies) is a real asset. ’I won’t have to spend a lot of time
concentrating on lots and lots of small clients. This is a client list
to die for.’
And although, funnily enough, Tunnicliffe now believes the volume game
has been over-played, he does see opportunities for Western to bulk its
muscle through acquisitions and start-ups as well as new business.
Expansion into territories such as programme-making, sponsorship and
direct marketing are not being ruled out.
But while all his well-honed spiel about Western suggests he’s never
been away, Tunnicliffe does confess that his return to media after ten
months in the garden, on the yacht and on the school-run, have made
their mark. ’I’m more objective now,’ he admits, ’calmer. I suppose I’ve
got a more refreshing outlook on the business. I don’t rush out to buy
Campaign until Friday now.’
The Tunnicliffe file
Link House Publications, sales executive
Saatchi & Saatchi, media assistant
Leagas Delaney, media manager
Horner Collis & Kirvan, deputy media director
CIA, head of non-broadcasting
CIA, managing director
Western International Media, managing director