HEADLINER: Why buyers don’t mess with Carlton’s savage sales chief - Gary Digby’s harsh selling tactics are revered by the industry, Claire Beale says

Forget Peter Mandelson. If you work in TV, the Prince of Darkness can only be one man - Gary Digby. Feared by staff, revered by peers, the Armani-clad, golf-loving, twinkly-eyed but steely-souled Diggers is Carlton’s pretty boy with the deadly negotiating nous.

Forget Peter Mandelson. If you work in TV, the Prince of Darkness

can only be one man - Gary Digby. Feared by staff, revered by peers, the

Armani-clad, golf-loving, twinkly-eyed but steely-souled Diggers is

Carlton’s pretty boy with the deadly negotiating nous.

Last week, Carlton finally got round to rewarding the people who have

built its sales operation into arguably the slickest in the business and

Diggers rose from sales controller to director, succeeding Steve Platt,

who becomes managing director (Campaign, 23 January).

Loved and loathed by the right people, Digby, I’m told, doesn’t tolerate

fools gladly, hates losing, can be incredibly vindictive and is one

miserable bugger. This guy is not exactly showbiz (though check out his

Alan Chilton impression).

All of which means, of course, that he’s a brilliant negotiator. An arch

exponent of his chosen black art, as Martin Bowley, now the chief

executive of Carlton Sales, points out: ’I know we’re going to have a

good day when I see Gary in his black shirt and black tie.’

Digby certainly sounds like a fearsome figure to face across the

negotiation table. ’You know if you’re up against it with Gary, he will

not let you off the hook. You don’t deal with Carlton lightly,’ one

broadcast chief quivers. David Connolly, the media director of Leo

Burnett who worked with Digby at STV, describes him as ’the best

negotiator in the business. He doesn’t waste time dancing around his

handbag and God help anyone who tries to pull a fast one on him.’

And this from the guy who didn’t speak to Digby for 18 months after they

fell out over a golf putt.

Digby started out in the dispatch room at CDP after his dad insisted

that he would never earn a decent living playing golf. At CDP he learned

his art at the knee of Ken Deadman. ’If it hadn’t been for Ken, I

wouldn’t be where I am today,’ reminisces Digby, letting me peek at his

softer underbelly.

By 1989, though, Digby had turned into one of the toughest TV buyers in

the business and when Steve Platt arrived at the shambles that was TSMS,

the only way he could get Digby off his back was to hire him. ’Central

was in such a mess, we were always getting shouted at by the buyers,’

Platt recalls, ’and Digby was the worst. So I lied through my teeth to

him, told him life at TSMS was one long round of golf, and he signed up

as sales manager. Then we took it in turns to pick up the phone and get

shouted at.’

In reality the duo turned around the fortunes of TSMS and earned

themselves a reputation as one of the most formidable sales teams in the

business. Then, and now at Carlton, these boys courted success with a

single-minded zeal that has won admirers and enemies. ’Carlton delivers,

but perhaps its fierce style means it doesn’t get the discretionary

funds,’ one TV buying chief points out. ’And it’s open to debate whether

its resistance to new ways of trading means it hasn’t been seduced by

fashion or just that its got its head somewhere the sun don’t


Graham Duff, the chief executive of Zenith Media, is clear, though, that

if he ever went back into TV sales, Digby would be top of his team


’He’s a terrific talent, with a great sarcastic humour’ - though Duff

wonders whether Digby’s funny bone will stretch to seeing the bright

side of being described as ’pretty’.

For Digby is almost as famed for his slick togs as for his slick


’He spends more on his golf clobber than I do on my entire wardrobe,’

laughs Platt. But for all his careful grooming, Digby insists he’s no

ego merchant, though he does admit to a penchant for the good things in

life. When he joined IDK back in 1988, his package included a white

Porsche, which caused IDK’s chief, Tony Kenyon, a few headaches when

Digby left for TSMS a few months later. The car ended up being passed on

to IDK’s Nigel Almond - a most incongruous match.

Digby insists that he is a nice guy, deep, deep, way on down. He admits

to being ’extremely competitive; I hate losing’, but claims business is

not something he takes personally, even when airtime negotiations end in

a bust-up. ’We’re all just trying to do the best for our respective

companies,’ he says with rare magnanimity.

He clearly adores his son, Michael, and while his professional

acquaintances may see him as a business machine without a heart, he says

he doesn’t wear those black shirts and ties outside work. Mind you, does

Armani do cable knits and carpet slippers?

The Digby file

1976 CDP, trainee

1980 McCann-Erickson, media planner/buyer

1986 BBDO, TV buying director

1987 STV, national sales manager

1988 IDK, TV buying manager

1989 TSMS, London sales manager

1994 Carlton, agency sales controller

1998 Carlton, sales director

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