Media Headliner: How hula hoops helped to make a healthy Heart

Ian Darby meets Barnaby Dawe, who has seen a 'feel good' factor and Capital Radio's breakfast crown arrive at Heart FM.

Heart, the Chrysalis radio brand, threw a "retox" party last week for its clients and media agencies. We meet Barnaby Dawe, its managing director, the morning after, yet, despite the high jinks of his colleagues, he's detoxing after the New Year period and is all perky.

Dawe spent the early part of January on holiday in Brazil, but the weather was so bad, he was forced to spend the entire time indoors watching Sex and the City DVDs and drinking caipirinhas. He could have been forgiven for revisiting the cocktail experience to celebrate Heart's most recent Rajar - its London station Heart 106.2 came out top in both reach and audience share, while its Jamie Theakston breakfast show overtook Johnny Vaughan's Capital FM programme for the first time.

While Chrysalis is currently conducting a strategic review, part of which involves considering the merits of selling its radio arm, Dawe says he remains focused on the job he started in 2005 after joining from Sky Networks, where he was the director of marketing.

Dawe is clearly a man of style and taste: resplendent in a Paul Smith suit, he inhabits a comfortable office, complete with a vintage poster of The African Queen, which hangs behind him as he sits on a leather sofa. Not for Dawe the shrine to a top football club or rock legends that seem so popular across radio offices in London.

He is obviously in good spirits after the Rajar figures: "Each Rajar doesn't change the way we act, but to get the breakfast crown after Capital has spent 34 years at the top is a great accolade for my programming team. I guess it just confirms that we are on track."

Dawe, who spent the previous eight years in marketing roles at Channel 4 and Sky, says delivering strong audience figures is just part of his role; he was hired to build an overarching brand that will become a "lifestyle and entertainment portal for our 3.1 million listeners".

This involves taking Heart beyond its three radio stations via obvious channels such as the internet, but also through broader lifestyle initiatives. Behind this is a plan to bring in revenues beyond traditional advertising, something it seems to have lagged behind competitors such as Capital and Emap's Kiss in achieving.

At the centre of all this activity will be the concept of "feel good", an idea that stems from the content of the radio stations, and has already been extended into activity beyond the station with an advertising campaign, through Clemmow Hornby Inge, that featured a hula-hoop girl and encouraged listeners to take part in the craze that has been sweeping US gyms. "It could have been quite naff; we didn't want to dwell on our cheesy heritage," Dawe concedes.

In addition to featuring in the ads, hula-hooping is also encouraged on the Heart website, which sells specially produced exercise DVDs. Heart has also signed a deal with Virgin Active gyms to encourage hula-hooping.

Dawe's background seems to have been instrumental in this activity: it's typical of the "marketing as content" approach he learned from his time at Channel 4, where he earned the admiration of his colleagues. Polly Cochrane, the director of marketing at Channel 4, says: "He's incredibly enthusiastic and ambitious in a healthy way, rather than being offensive. He's confident, capable and kind. He's incredibly hard-working and has put in the graft to get where he wants."

Sarah Gold, the joint managing director of CHI, says: "Barnaby is a real character. He makes a huge impact in every meeting. He is definitely not one of those clients you work for, but one you work with. Barnaby thrives in creative environments and loves to get his very dapper sleeves rolled up when it comes to creative work. Hula couldn't have happened without him, and it was, as a result, an idea that has made a real difference to Heart's business."

Dawe's current project is to build Heart into an authority on the lifestyles and habits of its core female audience of 30- to 39-year-olds. This resulted in a recent survey that was used to drive content on the stations and website, and may underpin future Heart activity, such as large-scale events.

It's a model he learnt from Sky, that of selling on new services to loyal customers, but Dawe admits he's had to lose some of the rough edges he acquired at the satellite broadcaster: "Sky taught me the exposure to the commercial edge of marketing. It's not easy working at Sky, but working for Dawn Airey (Sky Networks' managing director) was great. Chrysalis is much less hard-nosed, so I've had to adapt my Sky approach."

Above all, Dawe is an enthusiast for both the radio and advertising industries. On radio, he says: "It's time to look to the future. Commercial radio had this fantastic run and was the darling of the decade. The internet came along and put it down, but it is fighting back. Radio is no longer about delivering 30-second spots."

He says Heart is under as much pressure as its rivals to deliver revenues, and that his key task is to ensure his programmers keep receiving investment and support for the fight that is sure to come from a Capital Radio he believes is "genuinely turning a corner".

He concludes: "But at least we're all now more clearly defined. Capital is skewed much younger than it was, we occupy the middle ground and Magic is older. At one time in the past, we were all playing around 40 per cent of the same stuff."

Age: 37
Lives: Nappy Valley, Battersea, London
Family: Five siblings, with 12 nephews and nieces so far
Most treasured possession: My car and my Virgin Atlantic Gold membership
Interests outside work: Driving my car and travelling Virgin Upper Class
Favourite ad: Creature Comfort ads by Nick Park for Heat Electric in the
early 90s
Favourite radio show: Heart Breakfast with Jamie and Harriet, of course!
Favourite TV show: Too many to mention, but most big US dramas such as
24 or Desperate Housewives


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