MEDIA HEADLINER: Beer's agency understanding aims to take Flextech forward - Alasdair Reid interviewed Mary Beer, the Flextech TV stable's marketing director

"It shouldn't be entertaining. But it is." A brave tagline to put

on a commercial for a TV channel, even one called Bravo. But Flextech

has always seen itself as a challenger organisation, which makes it

quite a neat fit that as well as Bravo, one of its channels is called

Challenge TV. Just the sort of company that advertising agencies would

love to work for, you might think - until you recall that one of its

other channels is called Trouble.



Well, aren't they all? Media owners? Trouble. Banc, the incumbent on

Flextech's wholly owned channels (as opposed to the UK-TV properties run

jointly with the BBC), probably doesn't think so, although it has now

entered the most nervy period on any account - the first few weeks of a

new marketing director. Banc was appointed by the then marketing

director, Mike Smallwood, at the tail-end of 1999, after Mother had

resigned the business citing friction resulting from "different creative

and strategic approaches".



Last week, Smallwood, who has been promoted upwards and sideways into a

more strategic role, was succeeded by his deputy, Mary Beer. The good

news from the point of view of Banc (and Flextech's below-the-line

agencies such as Billington Cartmell, for that matter) is that Beer

really understands agencies and the creative process.



Before Flextech, she was an account director at Mellors Reay & Partners.

And she's something of an all-rounder because she has also done stints

at direct agencies and in public relations and she began her career at

Nordhaus Market Research in the US.



It's the sort of mix that should stand her in good stead. Especially, as

it happens, the research bit. Beer states: "In what is an increasingly

competitive market, you have to realise that viewers are all- powerful.

We are absolutely obsessed with our viewers and I think we have been

doing incredibly well in servicing them."



It's potentially a tough prospect, though - Flextech arguably inhabits

the third tier of an evolving digital TV universe. The top level is

occupied by the terrestrial channels with their burgeoning

cross-platform spin-offs. Sky owns the second level, leaving Flextech

and the rest.



Others would argue that this is a thoroughly old-fashioned analysis.



The future is identifying clear viewer demands and meeting them. That's

actually something Flextech excels at. There are no tiers any more, just

good and not-so-good brands. Beer would obviously agree with that

proposition.



"It's all about watertight propositions, clearly branded," she

argues.



"Our brands are targeted at particular segments. For those who like

Living, it's their number-one brand - and that's true for a lot of

people. Our reach has improved by 40 per cent in the past two years. We

have the opportunity now not only to hold on to that, but to

improve."



The main focus, as always, will be on-air promotion and cross-promotion

using the Flextech portfolio of TV channels, plus below the line and

sparing use of above-the-line, paid-for media advertising. And, of

course, there will be an increasing focus on wireless and online

marketing - appropriate for a portfolio of channels gearing up to take

advantage of the "enhanced TV" opportunities on digital platforms.



And there shouldn't be too many troublesome surprises for the incumbent

agencies in Beer's portfolio. That's usually the good news with internal

promotions. They've been working with her for three years, but can

expect life to get a little bit livelier.



According to Carol Reay, a founder of Mellors Reay, Beer works well with

creatives. "She's great. A mercurial character with a lot of flair. A

real live wire. She comes at things from very much her own direction and

is not frightened to go on instinct. She takes risks. She was never

afraid to say exactly what she thought and often what she said would be

very unexpected and surprising."



Reay thinks that Beer has an ideal blend of skills for the Flextech job.

And she agrees that Beer's market research background could come into

its own here. "Some people who have a background in a classic blue-chip

marketing department have a very dry approach to research. Mary doesn't

come from that direction at all. Yes, she will be very interested in

what consumers think. She wants to get in touch with that, but she will

always try to make it come alive. It doesn't restrict her. Quite the

opposite. She won't be hidebound by convention. She will do stuff that

will be noticed."