HEADLINER: TSMS boss anticipates a life of honest toil at Zenith Media - Tim Wootton doesn’t think he will miss the ITV sales scrum, Claire Beale claims

There is a pleasing symmetry to the fact that, as Tim Wootton bows out of television sales after 27 years, the market is on the brink of changing forever.

There is a pleasing symmetry to the fact that, as Tim Wootton bows

out of television sales after 27 years, the market is on the brink of

changing forever.

At a time when ITV prepares to tackle the challenges of digital

television, Wootton - the departing chairman of the ITV sales house,

TSMS - seems to be a man from a bygone age of television.

That’s not to say that Wootton, known affectionately as ’Spitter’ by his

legion of admirers, has had his day, just that his scrupulously honest

approach and diplomatic public demeanor are more indicative of a

brand-leading ITV than one in danger of disintegrating under the weight

of internal power games and strident competition.

Yet as Wootton prepares to bow out of the ITV sales mire for the - er -

media buying mire (next week Wootton takes over as the new non-executive

chairman of Zenith Media UK), he can look back on a chequered


When Wootton entered the business in 1970 at Anglia (’a lovely place to

work if daddy could afford to send you,’ he explains), his boss was a

retired Marine colonel whose second-in-command was a Polish squadron

leader. It was a gentlemanly profession and Anglia was no heavy sell. As

a sales rep for the Lincolnshire region with a fixed quota of spots,

Wootton had time to develop a keen interest in national hunt racing.

’Back then, ITV was a monopoly, very Reithian and was seen as a public

service,’ Wootton says. ’It was frustrating for the advertisers.’ Very

frustrating, too, for the young Wootton, who had sold luncheon meat from

the back of a car and who knew the customer was king.

But for all that, Wootton - whose appearance and fatherly manner belie

his 48 years - cherishes the good old days. ’The ITV companies had

hearts, more soul, the ambience was gentlemanly. Now it’s a much more

professional, aggressive operation,’ he says.

Wootton himself must take part of the credit (or is it blame?) for this

sea-change. For it was his sales initiative that was to transform the

entire structure of ITV sales and which will be Wootton’s lasting


’To me it was obvious,’ Wootton explains. ’Sales were contracting and

you might as well be driving that rather than waiting to see if you’d

get a job.’ Wootton launched the UK’s first ITV sales house, TSMS, with

his then partner, Dick Emery, in 1989.

’Some people were petrified about the idea of a sales house, some didn’t

think it would work, the competition was very sniffy about it and the

agencies and clients were very worried about confidentiality,’ Wootton


Yet TSMS set the agenda and other sales operations followed suit to the

extent that, with sales now concentrated into three sales points,

predictions of a further reduction down to two are widespread. TSMS is

the one usually served with a death warrant. Such gloomy forecasts have,

Wootton says, been the biggest challenge. ’We’ve hung on in there and

we’ve done a reasonably good job for our clients, despite being

perceived as the weaker of the three.’

In Wootton’s opinion, it is this three-way tussle between the ITV owners

- Carlton, Granada and United News and Media (which owns TSMS) - which

is holding back the ITV network. ’Nothing will happen in ITV unless the

three main players work together,’ he says. ’I think it is indicative,

and very sad, that you have Marcus (Plantin, the network director)

leaving and confusion within the structure. ITV needs a master and not a

servant to run it - and the three big players have to accept that if

they go for a servant they’ll get a weak administrator - and all the

problems they have will just go on and on and ITV will decline more than

it needs to.’

From the perspective of one escaping the mire, Wootton endorses the idea

of greater co-operation.

While sales unity is still some way off being legally acceptable,

Wootton sees no reason why all the back-of-house operations, everything

but direct selling of the product, can’t be performed in one building.

’It’s ludicrous not to.’

At Zenith, Wootton will help the company get more cosy with its


’I can be avuncular in helping Graham Duff (Zenith’s chief executive)

get a closer relationship with some of the large clients and, after 27

years, I have a good address book and I know a lot of people.’

The other attraction of Zenith is, he believes, the company’s integrity.

’I have many faults, I’m not very clever, really, but one thing I’ve

never done is anything dishonest. Zenith, to my knowledge, has never

done anything shady.’ A nice change from ITV sales?

The Wootton file


Anglia Television, sales representative


Anglia, group marketing director


Anglia, managing director, sales and marketing


TSMS, joint managing director


TSMS, chief executive


Zenith, non-executive chairman