Media Headliner: Bauer Radio seeks capital gains from Parkinson

Steve Parkinson is the man Bauer has promoted to give Kiss and Magic the edge in London's radio market.

It's a strange old business, the London radio market - particularly from a commercial perspective. For a start, London has a disproportionate importance, way beyond the weight it should theoretically command from a raw, audience-ratings point of view.

Shifts in the balance of power take on an overheated importance, not just in revenue share but in marketing and public relations terms, too. And its oddity is compounded by the fact that, while the commercial brands slug it out on a local basis, their fight with the BBC is with its big national brands, notably Radios 1 and 2.

It's a big-ticket game with big-ticket names such as Neil Fox, Johnny Vaughan and Chris Moyles in the same market.

You can see why a media company such as Bauer, with two main brands active in the market, would want to create the position of managing director for London Radio. And, having created the role, why it would want to hand it to the radio strategy veteran Steve Parkinson.

Parkinson knows more than most about London radio. In fact, arguably the biggest decision he has ever made in his media career to date still carries resonance. In February 2005, as the managing director of Heart, he sacked breakfast DJ Jono Coleman, whose audience was on the wane following a period when he had successfully taken the fight to Capital and Magic.

In Coleman's place, he brought in the former television presenter Jamie Theakston. A brave, some might say, inspired choice. Parkinson may have gone, but Theakston is still there. Ironically, it was his last major act before decamping to Emap in March 2005 to become its national director of radio brands.

Marketing has continued to be a major theme throughout his subsequent career at Emap - and then later again at Bauer after Emap bowed out and sold its major consumer properties to Bauer.

Parkinson joined Chrysalis in the early 90s, becoming the marketing director of the Galaxy Network in 1997 and went on to become the marketing director of the whole group in 1999.

Even while taking on roles as the first acting managing director for the company's Scottish and Northern Irish properties and subsequently as the managing director of Kiss in 2006, he has retained a marketing role. Parkinson confirms that this fresh posting will maintain a heavy element of marketing to it.

"The main point about the role is that it will be thinking about the London stations more as a joined-up business," he explains. "So it will be about strategy rather than about tinkering with the brands themselves, because the brands are in fine health - in the best possible shape for the fight ahead. When we talk to people it will be important to go in with the whole portfolio. It's about making it as easy as possible to access everything."

Parkinson will be working closely with Andria Vidler, the chief marketing officer at Bauer Media, who has responsibilities across all the company's consumer properties, including magazines, radio, television and online. In fact, it will not be the first time these two have formed what one former Emap insider refers to as a "Batman and Robin partnership".

Parkinson's arrival at Emap in 2005 coincided with Vidler's, who joined as the managing director having taken time out of the industry following her departure from her role as the managing director of the Capital Radio network in 2003. Magic soon became London's top station. Indeed, in the fourth quarter of 2008, it celebrated two full years as London's top station.

Parkinson brings to his new role a reputation for creating teams with tremendous energy and spirit - and he's certainly popular. He is, after all, a colourful character and one of the industry's more committed party animals. In the words of one industry peer, he shows no sign of wavering in his seeming "determination to grow old disgracefully". He is 41 now, though, and some predict that he will inevitably find himself bringing appropriate levels of maturity to his new role.

Parkinson himself admits that, with increasing work responsibilities, he does not find much time for clubbing these days - though he says that party hot spot Ibiza is still his favourite island in the world.

Some industry insiders argue that the task ahead is relatively easy to define. Magic remains strong, with a 6 per cent market share; while Kiss performs well within the 15-34 age group demographic in the capital. All Parkinson has to do now is take the fight further into BBC territory.

Many in the industry, such as Tom Drummond, the head of radio at Initiative, are encouraged by the strength of Parkinson's marketing credentials. Drummond adds: "What Magic needs is someone to go out and target the sorts of people who are listening to Radio 2. I hope he's the man to do that - and I will have to say I'm feeling positive about this move."

And the thing is, Parkinson concludes, the balance of power can shift very suddenly in this market. Just look at the variable fortunes of Capital Radio since the departure of its star breakfast DJ Chris Tarrant, he argues.

"Wogan will have to retire some time. When he decides to hang up his headphones it will be a defining moment for the medium - and its effects will be as significant as when Tarrant stepped down at Capital. We want to make sure that we're in the best possible position when that happens."

The lowdown
Age: 41
Lives: Balham
Family: Still single (perhaps I'm too married to the job!)
Favourite radio show: I wake up to John Humphries, listen to Rickie,
Melvin and Charlie in the shower, and Neil Fox in the kitchen. (And I
have GMTV on at the same time)
Favourite gadget: The fantastic Sky+ - and I'm buying my first iPhone
Alternative career: I almost became a copper in Newcastle in 1990
Most-treasured possession: Apart from my family and two godchildren, it
has to be my mobile
Motto: "It's sometimes easier to seek forgiveness than permission"

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