MEDIA HEADLINER: Endemol's new hiring Miner is out to bridge the agency gap - Miner's experience with BT will help Endemol's digital TV growth, Jeremy Lee says

Most creative and media agencies have tried to jump on the advertiser-funded and advertiser-supplied programming bandwagon. It is considered sexy, it appears to push agencies further upstream and, perhaps most crucially, agencies have seen media owners do it profitably and want a slice of the action.

However, by and large, there aren't many examples of agencies attempting it successfully and the concept remains mostly as a chart on a credentials document.

Endemol, the producer of programmes including the perennially popular Big Brother, as well as Changing Rooms and the Pepsi Chart Show, is in a better place to exploit content because content is its raison d'etre.

The company's recent recruitment of Vanessa Miner to head its new commercial partnerships department is a sign of its ambition. But as first and foremost a production company, it could face problems when it comes to getting involved in the world of advertising.

The woman entrusted with bridging this gap could make a secondary career as an (albeit more attractive) version of Anne Robinson's erstwhile Watchdog sidekick Alice Beer. Educated at a "good gals school in the West Country, she is charming, well-spoken and, much like her TV doppelganger, seems good fun in an ever-so-slightly jolly hockey sticks type of way.

Miner started her career in TV production, armed with an English degree from Warwick University, before joining BT in a marketing and special events capacity. During her ten-year tenure at BT she put together the company's commercial association with Euro '96 and BT Openworld's sponsorship of the Global Challenge yacht race. Her credentials already covered exposure to both broadcasters and advertisers.

Despite confessing that she has not had a great deal of contact with creative agencies, Miner's commercial background seems to be made of the right sort of stuff. She left BT after ten years to join Vizzavi as its head of sponsorship, where she was instrumental in arranging the sponsorship of ITV's Pop Idol. Although this was a success in terms of raising the profile of Vizzavi, there were more fundamental problems with the company - what it does, for instance - and she lost her job after one year.

Three months later and she has re-emerged in the new Endemol role and, although just days into the job, she talks confidently about developing and exploiting Endemol's intellectual properties and building partnerships with agencies, advertisers and broadcasters.

Miner stresses that ad funding and sponsorship is just a narrow part of what she'll be looking at selling. "It encompasses product placement, events, content distribution, packaging and cross-media exploitation as well, she says.

A key question is whether her appointment by Endemol represents a threat to agencies, which are also desperately trying to maximise their revenue streams. Miner does not seem to think so. "Endemol has got me on board to build better relationships with clients, broadcasters and agencies," she says. "It is a big production company and when it comes to the role of advertisers, well, Endemol is just beginning to learn about it."

One particular area that Miner is keen to develop further is that of digital television and interactivity and she says her experience at BT and the Vodafone-owned Vizzavi will prove useful.

Big Brother is consistently cited as the programme with advanced elements of interactivity tuned to commercial exploitation and this is the sort of thing that Miner will be taking on to a further level.

Currently both broadcasters and advertisers instigate Endemol's new programmes, but this split could begin to err in the advertisers favour. "The most important thing is to get involved before the idea is bedded down, she says.

One project that Miner is cutting her teeth on is a new Endemol commission for Channel 5 called International King of Sports, which starts shooting this week. She describes it as a cross between Superstars and Banzai - how enticing such a show is to advertisers remains to be seen but Endemol has a further 25 shows in production all ripe for exploitation.

Although International King of Sports was commissioned with the intention of finding commercial partners retrospectively, Miner's role is to get advertisers involved from the outset. How far agencies allow her to get involved with their clients is up to them but she concedes it isn't going to happen overnight. With apocryphal evidence suggesting that a third of advertising deals in the Far East are sold with the media's property owner rather than with the broadcaster, it's natural that Endemol is trying to emulate this success.

1991: Blueprint Productions, producer
1992: BT corporate relations, public affairs adviser
1995: BT UK, head of PR and sponsorship
1999: BT Openworld, head of sponsorship
2001: Vizzavi Europe, head of sponsorship
2002: Endemol UK, director of commercial partnerships

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