Media Headliner: Agile Barnes leads Channel 4 sales into new era

Andy Barnes' appointment of Mick Perry wasn't what many within commercial TV was expecting, Alasdair Reid writes.

The joke doing the rounds in media agencies is that Mick Perry has been in training for a senior media sales job for the past couple of years. You know how it goes - he's been working three days a week but two of those are spent on the golf course.

Since leaving his full-time role as the UK boss of Interpublic's media consolidation unit, Magna, in 2007, he's been working as a consultant for the group on negotiation issues. A perfect apprenticeship, you could argue, for his new role, announced last week - he's Channel 4's head of airtime sales, reporting to the sales director, Andy Barnes.

And yet, underpinning the banter, there was widespread surprise across town when the news of Barnes' choice was released. The reckoning, perhaps, was that the 56-year-old Perry was, and is, old school - whereas media owners, not least television sales points, have been falling over themselves to demonstrate their determination to do things differently.

Perry, in contrast, began his career in the 70s, when Channel 4 hadn't even been thought of and digital was an adjective pertaining to fingers. He started out in airtime sales at STV before joining the McCann Erickson media department in the mid-80s - and he stayed at IPG in various roles until, basically, last week.

His transfer was swift. And, indeed, there are those who hint rather unfairly, that his immediate availability was the most telling quality on his resume. He actually started at Horseferry Road on Monday.

Officially, he has a wide remit under Barnes. The press release states that Perry now has responsibility for generating ad revenue across the Channel 4 portfolio of channels and Box TV, the music channels run in a joint venture with Bauer. He will "identify the strategy for all sales negotiations and work closely with the existing team to develop strong, effective relationships with all agencies and clients". And it adds: "He will identify and develop revenue opportunities helping to provide integrated sales solutions to clients."

You could argue that, actually, this is a fancy way of saying that he'll be a direct replacement for Matt Shreeve, the man who balanced the deal-making books for Barnes for as long as anyone can remember - but who left in April.

But it won't be as simple as that because he'll be helping to implement a whole new sales structure being introduced as part of a rootand-branch review of Channel 4 under the new chief executive, David Abraham, who joined from UKTV back in May. Channel 4 sources suggest that while airtime sales will continue to be a vital part of C4 sales' offer, the new structure will actually push strategic solutions up the agenda through a system that is geared-up to offer bespoke ideas.

And Perry will be finding his feet in one of the most fluid and volatile broadcast markets in years. Currently, anything could happen in the broadcast business - and it probably will. After all, if Perry's appointment is remarkable, you could also argue that it's equally remarkable that it was ever Barnes' appointment to make.

Because, just a matter of weeks ago, there were many observers who believed that Barnes was unlikely to survive Abraham's arrival. For instance, wasn't it common knowledge that Abraham was a big fan of Julia Jordan, the executive director of UKTV, and James Wildman, the boss of ids, the sales house that had done such a sterling job in selling UKTV?

As it turned out, that common knowledge was being shared largely by sources close to ids itself. But still, this theory gained ground when Abraham announced he was drafting in Boston Consulting Group to look at the whole Channel 4 structure and blow any cobwebs out of the rafters.

And wasn't it similarly well known that Shreeve was the man who did all the real work? Hadn't there been, in recent memory, substantial question marks about Barnes' focus, ambition and commitment to the cause? Wasn't it time for Shreeve to emerge from Barnes' shadow just as Barnes had emerged from the shadow of his former boss, Stewart Butterfield, back in 1997?

Clearly not. In the end, it was Shreeve who decided it was time to move on - and he began work this week at the barter agency Active International. Meanwhile, Barnes, in recent weeks, has seemed rejuvenated. As one senior media agency source describes it: "He's certainly a cat with nine lives. There may have been a feeling that he had eased himself into something of a figurehead role.

"But the truth of it is that it takes a special sort of person to be able to report to the likes of a Mark Thompson one minute, then the likes of an Andy Duncan the next. He is an extremely agile figure in that environment. I think those who underestimate him have always been making a big mistake."

Equally, in that respect, those who underestimate his appointment of Perry are perhaps making a similar-sized mistake. Pedro Avery, the managing director for trading and engagement at Arena Media, certainly believes this is an incredibly solid move.

He explains: "This is not the time for the likes of a Channel 4 to take risks. There might have been a feeling before Perry's appointment that this might be a good time to take a run at Channel 4. But Mick will be senior to or equal to all of the people he'll meet across the table this autumn. He taught some of them all the tricks they know - and he knows a few more besides that he's kept for himself."

And Chris Locke, the trading director at Starcom MediaVest Group, tends to agree. He concludes: "Perry is very good at seeing things in the round. He knows how agencies see the world, he knows what they want, he knows what they are going to say. And because he's a quiet man and vaguely intellectual too, you might suspect that he's not going to be confrontational but, actually, he is an incredibly determined man. Whatever way you look at it, this is just a very smart appointment."


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