While I talk about nursery schools to the gentle, thoughtful man
who is sitting at the antique kitchen table plonked incongruously in the
middle of the office, my glance darts around the room. I’m waiting for
Ian Clark - the newly appointed director of advertising for News Group -
to come in and begin the interview.
I suddenly realise that the charming, bespectacled man pouring warm milk
into my coffee with tender, avuncular care is, indeed, the man who is
about to leave the comparatively womb-like environment of Booth Lockett
Makin’s new Soho offices to head The Sun and the News of the World’s
space-floggers in filthy Wapping.
News Group’s hiring of Clark does, in fact, continue the trend of the
sales operations bringing in a bit of creative and strategic savvy from
the media agency side. The trend was set off four years ago when Richard
Webb, now News Group’s general manager, joined from Optimedia.
A question that springs to mind, though, is whether Clark, who up until
this week was BLM’s media director, ever transforms from a mild-mannered
man into a more dynamic and forceful character.
’I told Richard Webb, if you want a table-thumping Rottweiler, then I
can do that,’ he says, not entirely convincingly. ’But there is much
more to media than that. There are lots of great sales people at News
Group who can take care of that side of things. I am closer to
understanding the clients.’
Not that he would have been prepared to blaze the trail himself. ’I
wouldn’t have gone in to do the job that Richard did four years ago,’ he
says. ’I’m lucky - he went in as the battering ram.’
However, simply bringing in someone marginally higher up the food chain
to waft intelligence and sensitivity through the grubby Wapping walls is
only a small part of the story. One agency press director points out:
’There’s a big difference in what motivates buyers and sellers. For
planners and buyers it is creativity in putting schedules and strategy
together. People on the sales side just want to sell space.’
Indeed, Mike Ironside, the managing director of Associated Newspapers’
Mail on Sunday, warns: ’The team will respect his professionalism and
his nature, but he has to understand that when he stands on that floor,
all of them will know more about the paper than he does.’
Clark, though, has the advantage of having watched the market from a
neutral standpoint for years. The main issue for him is declining
circulation across the board. This leaves Clark in a peculiar position -
after 15 years on the agency side he suddenly has to pretend that
everything is rosy in Wapping.
Would he really have eulogised about how great the News Group brands are
six months ago? He dodges the question like a jump-shy pony. In fact, he
dodges most questions about his new job, choosing instead to talk about
his previous ones. All three of them.
He’s not exactly a job slut, our Ian. With an average of five years in
each company, his CV is almost as short as the Queen’s. And he will be
the first to admit that he has never sold so much as a second-hand
toaster through the small ads.
He should, however, have gained some experience at his alma maters,
especially his three years in the buzzing media department of Saatchi &
Saatchi in the 80s. The ’anything is possible’ attitude running through
the agency (as well as his experience on the News International account)
should get a mention under the ’transferable skills’ section of his
’Champagne! Arrogance!’ he barks in recollection, lavish gestures
briefly animating him before he defaults to mild mode.
A move to Young & Rubicam cleansed his palate somewhat - he reflects on
how it gave him time to think a bit more and practise his strategic
skills, although he left when media agencies were getting ’too big’.
Hence the move to BLM - then only two years old - after having been
approached to run the newly acquired Thomas Cook account. He says: ’I
missed the difficult bit when they had no business, but I’ve been here
for the long run.’ Although one can’t help but wonder why, with a sale
surely imminent, BLM couldn’t hold on to its most senior staffer for
just a while longer.
After all, it’s not as though he is one of media’s more aggressive
I ask Ironside about Clark’s character and am given an ambiguous
’What you experience in an hour and a half with him is what you
experience in ten years,’ he says.
Now that the decision to move has been made, Clark is raring to go and
he is hoping that he won’t be kept to too much of his six-month
He certainly has the coiled demeanour of a caged pussy-cat. ’I’m not
going in as an airy-fairy guy with nice ideas. I’m going in to continue
to grow revenue.’ Gggrrr!
THE CLARK FILE
Saatchi & Saatchi, media executive
Young & Rubicam, senior media executive
Booth Lockett Makin, head of press
Booth Lockett Makin, media director
News Group, director of advertising