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