Media Forum: Is ITV's restructure positive?

Will ITV's commercial changes make a difference, Alasdair Reid asks.

Back in the summer, when the current tornado was still the merest hint of a freshening in the breeze, we ran a feature about media sales operations, looking particularly at those showing a desire to embrace innovation. This, we suggested, might stand them in good stead during a downturn.

As it happens, we looked at ITV, the reasoning being that, though it hadn't yet become a front-runner where joined-up thinking was concerned, it deserved recognition for the fact that it had come a long way in a relatively short time. It had, after all, been thinking laterally when it had appointed Rupert Howell as commercial director.

That was then. The storm has arrived now, clearly - and, last week, ITV announced its determination to restructure yet again ahead of a trading season that will be conducted against the toughest of economic conditions. There are redundancies on the lower decks as you'd expect; but up on the promenade, beyond the quoits area and the lifeboat muster station, there's also been some rearranging of the deckchairs.

The principal appointments are being presented as a triumph of further integration. For instance, Mark Trinder (formerly the senior client development director) and Jeremy Lawrence (previously the trading account director) have both been made up to trading account directors, reporting directly to the ITV Commercial sales director, Gary Digby.

The notion, perhaps, is that there will now be more joined-up thinking in the way ITV approaches the two sides (agencies and clients) of its customer base; while there will now be account teams able to have meaningful conversations about everything, from ITV1 airtime to multichannel or sponsorship or online advertising.

Should we applaud? Andy Bolden, the European media director of GlaxoSmithKline, says his instinct is to reserve judgment. He explains: "All the usual suspects appear to be there still - but if they are prepared to come out and talk a joined-up game, then it will be worth listening to. It all depends on who's sitting around the table. For instance, it's no good talking just to me without talking to the media agency too. And the issue, often, is what is possible versus what is contracted. This could be a good move - but I suppose my position is that we'll have to wait and see."

However, Neil Johnston, the head of TV at OMD UK, is slightly more upbeat. He says: "We already have a big trading relationship with ITV (as regards spot advertising), so this will allow us to look at more of what it has to offer. ITV can still be expected to be hard when it comes to negotiations. That will never change - and nor should it. But it's also true that it comes up with better ideas these days. It's more interested in our clients and in understanding the things that make a real difference to their businesses."

Also positive is Matt Platts, a managing partner at Vizeum. He reckons: "I'd give it the thumbs up. ITV is clearly aware that non-spot is where the growth opportunities are. A media owner can announce all sorts of initiatives and intentions, but unless the thinking is joined-up, then people are entitled to be a little bit sceptical. I'd give ITV credit - and it seems to mirror the way we've set ourselves up on the agency side."

Much of which makes sense to Chris Hayward, the investment director at ZenithOptimedia. He agrees that, on the face of it, this seems a logical step for ITV to take - but, in practice, it may prove difficult to implement. He concludes: "It needs to find a unified approach. Gary Digby has to be in a position to dictate what the strategy is with regard to both agencies and clients. The same message should be going out. The problem is that it isn't always easy to break up a silo structure - but if it can do that, then this sort of structure might make it easier to attract investment across a number of ITV platforms or at least make discussions easier. It would be more likely that big projects would come to fruition."

MAYBE - Andy Bolden, European media director, GlaxoSmithKline

"It will be interesting to see how it approaches this - and what it will want to talk about differently. I'm sitting here with an open book for 2009 - and it will be an interesting year. I'm intrigued."

YES - Neil Johnston, head of TV, OMD UK

"It's positive. It will make it easier to do business with ITV. In a converging world, I don't think it made sense having separate teams for sponsorship and online. This will allow us to look at more of what it has to offer."

YES - Matt Platts, managing partner, Vizeum

"Integrating all of ITV's commercial offerings into one structure makes sense. It's much easier to deal with a media owner when they are able to put packages together that are not solely focused on spot advertising."

MAYBE - Chris Hayward, investment director, ZenithOptimedia

"We're always interested in having wider discussions across a number of platforms. The individuals there are all very smart, but they should all be pulling in the same direction with the same intensity of effort. It isn't always easy breaking up a silo structure."

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