MEDIA: HEADLINER; Ex-sales chief at IPC signs up for the Virgin Radio challenge

Kathryn Jacob is ready to take on the radio industry, Anne-Marie Crawford says

Kathryn Jacob is ready to take on the radio industry, Anne-Marie

Crawford says

Kathryn Jacob is tidying her knicker drawer when I call her to arrange

an interview. She doesn’t know me from Adam, but offers to come round

and do mine later.

Jacob, 34, has just been appointed sales director at Virgin Radio, and

has had plenty of time for tidying her drawers lately. Although she

actually left her previous job at IPC Magazines last September, her

contract ran until January this year. So in the intervening months she’s

had lots of spare time for (and these are her words): riding her bike,

painting her house and cooking Delia Smith’s Winter Collection for her

husband, Iain Jacob, Motive’s international media director.

All that will now change as Jacob plunges back into the hurly-burly

world of media sales. It’s a job she appears admirably qualified for.

‘She has lots of energy. When you’re selling it helps to project

immensely and to be engaging. She’s both those things,’ Mike Wood, the

media director at J. Walter Thompson, says. ‘She’s also a very amusing

lunch companion.’

Others go further. ‘She’s a goddess,’ Derek Morris, the joint media

director at BMP DDB Needham, declares. ‘I thought her best period was

about 12 years ago when she was on What Mortgage?’ But seriously Derek.

‘She’s a good operator and she’s got bags of energy and personality,’ he


Jacob has also been described as the ‘Robin Williams of media’ so I was

bracing myself for a real in-your-face assault when we met in the flesh.

The venue was Le Meridien hotel in London’s Piccadilly where Jacob has

taken up residence for the past week while the internal politics at

Virgin, caused by her arrival and the subsequent departure of the

station’s head of sales, John Quinn, work themselves out.

She sits dispensing tea and chat, easily drowning out Le Meridien’s

harpist who is plucking madly nearby. As I expected, Jacob is bubbly and

confident - a snug fit with Virgin’s own profile, of course. She could

probably become slightly wearing if you were recovering from flu, but

she is not as relentlessly upfront as I first feared.

In fact, despite her willingness to hold court in the hotel’s tearoom,

Jacob can also be remarkably coy. You get the sense that she believes

you’re setting traps for her. I ask Jacob what her peers think of her

and she appears embarrassed. ‘I’ve never asked them... that I’m a nice

girl I suppose,’ she fudges.

Ask her why she left IPC Magazines and you elicit a similarly

unsatisfactory response. She says she was ‘looking for challenges’. But

the rumour mill still murmurs away hinting there was a personality clash

between Jacob and IPC’s redoubtable group ad sales director, Sly Grice.

Jacob herself has nothing but praise for Grice (and indeed IPC in

general). And she’s a toughie herself of course - a clever, 90s tough

which means getting what you want, but making everyone else feel

empowered in the process.

Jacob believes one of her strengths is man management and that ‘people

like working for me’. Judging by the fact that John Quinn’s chair is

still warm and Virgin’s sales team is already welcoming the new girl

with open arms, I’d say she’s right.

Certain members of the radio fraternity have griped at her appointment.

They point out that, as radio moves along the TV road in the way it is

bought and sold, picking an ex-print person for a national station may

not be such a smart move.

To be fair, Jacob had never sold national newspapers either before she

joined the Daily Telegraph.

‘If I’d come from broadcast, they would have said, ‘How unimaginative’.

Look, there are certain things I’m not au fait with, but by day three I

should be. I’m not unintelligent. I’m a sales director. I have to have a

vision for my team and give them direction. I don’t have any baggage,’

she counters.

Part of Jacob’s vision will involve moving the Virgin Radio brand on to

the next stage. In bald terms, that means making more money. But it also

means looking afresh at the marketplace and facing up to the challenge

of media fragmentation.

You can bet Jacob will give it all the personality and energy she’s got.

‘I want to win Campaign’s Medium of the Year for five years running. I

want to take everyone on,’ she declares (much to the harpist’s

consternation). I wonder who’ll tidy her knicker drawer while she’s

sorting that lot out.

The Jacob file

1982 Thompson Regional Newspapers, management trainee

1984 Financial Magazines, sales executive

1985 Daily Telegraph, sales executive

1987 Daily Telegraph, group head

1992 IPC Magazines, TV listings titles, ad manager

1994 IPC, agency sales director

1996 Virgin Radio, sales director