Media: Forum - Will the labour of Channel 5’s sales team pay off? - For the Channel 5 sales and marketing teams, the worst bit will be over on Sunday. They’ve been trying to talk advertisers and agencies into signing up for something that

On Sunday we discover if it has been worth the wait. Last-minute scares about the failure to reach retuning targets are behind us now, and the Independent Television Commission has given its blessing for the final countdown to begin. In a matter of hours, Channel 5 will be with us.

On Sunday we discover if it has been worth the wait. Last-minute

scares about the failure to reach retuning targets are behind us now,

and the Independent Television Commission has given its blessing for the

final countdown to begin. In a matter of hours, Channel 5 will be with

us.



Those of us who aren’t rolling our Easter eggs, stuck on the M3

somewhere near the Hampshire border on the way to Gran’s or taking the

gentle spring sun on a Canary Islands beach will be glued to our sets.

Judgment on the channel’s merits is set to move into the province of

television critics and Barb audience analysts.



But one aspect of the channel’s performance can already be assessed. The

channel’s sales and marketing team has spent the past few months selling

its philosophy to agencies and trying to get them to sign on the dotted

line.



The Channel 5 sales director, Nick Milligan, brought a new dimension to

the whole exercise - laptop computers. The presentations were state of

the art - bells and whistles, multimedia ... you name it. The idea was

not only to bring new technology to the table but new attitudes too. How

well did Channel 5 do in the prelaunch phase? It didn’t set out to turn

the television trading system on its head, but was the sales and

marketing approach distinctive or different? Did the sales team convince

buyers to regard Channel 5 as a brand? Or is this just more telly at a

bigger discount?



According to Greg Turzynski, a managing partner at Optimedia, Channel 5

has been extremely sensitive to the peculiarly British insistence of

knocking anything new. ’The last major channel launch was met with the

ubiquitous ’you only see satellite dishes on council houses’ jibe,’ he

points out. ’So, while it must have been extremely tempting to do it

differently, Channel 5 has underplayed the upfront sell. It’s a balance

between risking a degree of inertia that leads to no-one bothering and

the over-promising that spells trouble later. The reality is that you

can’t please all of the people all of the time.’



That may not be crucial, in any case. The reality is that, to a great

extent, it is a seller’s market. Turzynski adds: ’Regardless of sales

policy, in a market characterised by inflation, it is the responsibility

of every agency to investigate and come to conclusions about a

terrestrial channel that will add 1,176 minutes of new commercial

airtime each week. It is our view that if Channel 5 steals even a

fraction of BBC viewing, it is worth backing. For this reason we will

not be joining the bandwagon of soothsayers but will provide the support

that it ultimately deserves.’



Paul Parashar, the broadcast director of New PHD - whose sister company,

Drum PHD, has worked for Channel 5 - says its approach has been

refreshingly innovative. ’It has come in and done things very

differently, using all sorts of technical gadgets. The marketing has

been professionally done - the only worry is that you are impressed by

the format rather than the context of the message.’



Earlier this year, many agencies were worried that the Channel 5 message

was lightweight. In recent weeks, it has certainly made up for that and

its recent presentations have focused on making buyers aware of how the

schedule stacks up against the output of their rivals.



Parashar says it’s undeniable that the team has succeeded in branding

the channel within the advertising industry. ’On the sales side, it is

making all the right noises but it isn’t offering anything unique. That

said, the thing that has impressed people is that it is prepared to take

a long-term view - and that is an important part of its branding too.

The bosses would rather turn business away than have to take it too

cheaply - they realise that once you set a precedent you can give

yourself problems. They are trying to ensure the business plan works

three, four and five years down the line and that has to be a good

thing.’



It strikes Nick Theakstone, the TV buying director of the Media Centre,

as odd that Channel 5 isn’t using other television channels to promote

itself, though believes that, broadly, its marketing efforts have been

successful to date. ’On the sales side, its opening gambit has been to

say that it will trade any way that you want to trade, but it won’t tell

you its revenue figure. This clearly doesn’t add up, so we’re left with

fixed prices, discounts off ITV and ratings guarantees. We also have

sales promises that the channel will be 100 per cent sold with the most

of the business on fixed prices, bonus airtime for supporters but no

special rates on selected programming. It’s certainly not an ITV sell

but perhaps Channel 5 looked carefully at Channel 4’s success. It has

brought a new option to the negotiating table - let’s hope that it helps

to curb television inflation.’



David Cuff, the broadcast director of Initiative Media, says Channel 5

has certainly shown some imagination - the all-singing, all-dancing

presentations are the best he has ever seen from a media owner. It’s

also running a personal direct marketing strategy - addressing material

to everyone in the department, for instance, rather than to a chosen

few. That, he argues, contributes to an all-round feel-good factor.



He adds: ’As for the sales side, it’s difficult to be different but it

has certainly set itself apart from ITV. Aside from that, Channel 5 is

behaving quite conventionally. It’s difficult to be really different

because Sky is already out there at the far end of the spectrum - in

terms of the sponsorship things it can offer, for instance - and we’re

used to all of that now.’



He points out that Channel 5 is in a tough scrap for revenue - and in

battle, the first things that get thrown out are any carefully prepared

plans. ’It can only move as fast as the industry will let it,’ Cuff

says. ’My biggest worry is that consumer awareness doesn’t seem very

high. It may be going for a slow-burn approach which could be wise,

given the level of coverage it’ll have on day one. On anecdotal evidence

alone, I think the retuning problems must be a lot more serious than

Channel 5 is letting on.’



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