Media Headliner: Bullish Bowley claims he can sell ad-funded programming

The former Carlton TV sales chief bounces back with a new venture. Jeremy Lee reports.

After several false starts in the 90s, advertiser-funded programming is back in vogue. Talk to any agency or production company and they will most likely come up with a range of programming ideas to develop a brand beyond advertising in traditional media space.

However, it isn't happening on any great scale yet. Aside from a smattering of taxpayer-funded COI Communications TV projects, there have yet to be many convincing case studies that show AFP is the future of the ad industry.

So why does Martin Bowley, 49, the former chief executive of Carlton TV Sales, think he can make a decent fist of it where no-one else seems to have managed?

Well, first of all, he objects to having the AFP prefix attached to his new company, Amplified, which he has set up in partnership with Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy.

He says that Amplified is about deeper relationships. It is about creating and managing communication through content (contrary to comments from wags who thought that it referred to Bowley launching a mobile disco), and it's about developing events and media partnerships and managing mobile communication streams. It is about amplifying a brand message across multiple platforms.

"The key difference is that content will sit at the heart of what we do," Bowley says. He claims that Amplified will look at creating content with creative agencies at an earlier stage in the process than is currently the norm, and that it has already started doing this with MCBD clients.

While MCBD will be a 30 per cent shareholder in the venture, Bowley is footing the rest of the bill. With an eight-strong team, it is quite an investment. Some thought that when Graham Duff beat him to the managing director's post at ITV Sales in an acrimonious head-to-head, Bowley would take the fortune he has made from the business and disappear to one of his three houses with his golf clubs, to bitch about not getting the top job.

But this is a new Bowley, an evangelical Bowley, who seems far removed from the jaded figure who endured the dog days at Carlton. The opportunity to work with a creative agency is something that he has always hankered after.

Peculiarly for a media man, he seems more at home with creatives (and members of 70s rock bands) than he does with media agencies.

Michael Baulk, the chairman of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, was not surprised at Bowley's new direction. He says: "The ad village is not completely ignorant of ad-funded content but Martin's background means that he has real expertise which could help us expand into this area."

Goodwill notwithstanding, the big question is, can he make clients understand the Amplified offering well enough to want to pay for it?

Well, this is where Bowley's contacts book will come in useful. A seasoned sales professional, Bowley, with his faux naif charisma, is comfortable talking to anyone - a skill he must have been forced to hone in his pre-media career.

He began his sales career behind the counter, fussing over presentation boxes in a Torquay jeweller, then did a stint pounding the streets of West Country towns peddling chocolate bars, before moving on to sell Schaeffer pens.

His media career began at the local radio station Devon Air. He then scaled the TV sales greasy pole to become the sales director of TSW, before becoming part of the launch team for Carlton TV, where he worked until the bitter end.

It was at Carlton that he became acquainted with all of the major clients (shrewdly, he left the majority of the nasty and complex conversations - arguments about share and discount - to his sales director Steve Platt), as well as producers and commissioning editors.

The timing for his new venture may well be right - anecdotal evidence suggests that clients are now starting to allocate marketing budgets to the content arena.

"Across all television, the programme budgets are under pressure and clients will end up owning the rights," Bowley says.

Never one to underestimate his own ability, Bowley is bullish about the company and claims that it will be profitable in year one. There is even talk of him adding a European dimension.

But this all depends on him cracking the domestic market. Christine Walker, a founding partner of Walker Media, says: "It's a tricky area to monetise, but he's got the front to do it. The issue is whether there's a market for it."

Baulk gives a more optimistic assessment of Bowley's chances. "Clients can be made to be interested and he is the right man to do this," he says.