MEDIA HEADLINER: Self-effacing strategist is set to install brand values at BDB - Anthony Sethill will let the results of his work do the talking, John Owen hears

Anthony Sethill doesn’t want to talk about himself. So stop reading now if you want to know what his favourite tipple is, where he goes on holiday, his taste in clothes, or even about his sex life.

Anthony Sethill doesn’t want to talk about himself. So stop reading

now if you want to know what his favourite tipple is, where he goes on

holiday, his taste in clothes, or even about his sex life.

The new marketing director of British Digital Broadcasting doesn’t even

want to discuss his career. He’s here to talk about his plans for BDB

and the reasons for the appointment of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, New PHD

and Clarke Hooper as the agencies that will help him realise them

(Campaign, 13 February).

Such self-effacement does not surprise Andrew Robertson, the managing

director of AMV. ’Anthony is clearly not a flash marketing ligger who’s

out to build his own profile. He is a thoughtful, intelligent strategist

and an imaginative tactician,’ he says.

Having sharpened my best ego-pricking pencil, I can’t deny it’s a

disappointment to find there’s no ego to be pricked. Sethill has the

appearance of someone who, as a boy, was the well-groomed swot who

always came top in physics and maths. Not the sort who got bullied, just


In later life, of course, this quiet single-mindedness has propelled our

hero into such an elevated position that it is no longer possible to

ignore him. Sethill now has at least pounds 20 million to spend on

introducing the nation to what he describes as ’the future of the heart

of British TV’.

What journalists and industry observers would call digital ’terrestrial’

TV, Sethill prefers to call ’mainstream’. While his satellite and cable

rivals talk up interactvity and video-on-demand as the key benefits of

digital, Sethill is quite clear that BDB is in the business of

’broadcast TV’, and that the three secrets to its success will be

’programming, programming and programming’. The flashy bolt-on bits may

well appear later - but only if the consumer wants them.

Which is fine, except that the key programming at his disposal will be

the same as that of his rivals.

Essentially, BDB will use Sky’s sports and movies to drive subscriptions

to a service that will also offer themed channels and re-runs from the

BBC, Carlton, Granada and Flextech.

The familiarity of the names is one ace in Sethill’s possession; but a

single card does not make a hand. Given that everyone will have access

to sport and movies, what will make BDB so special?

’Why does someone drive to Tesco not Sainsbury’s?’ he responds. ’They

stock the same product. What matters is their approaches to how they

deliver that to the consumer.’

In other words, brand values - so step forward, AMV. Not that it was

just the ad agency that impressed Sethill: the ability of all three

group companies that pitched to deliver a through-the-line solution was


Sethill identifies New PHD’s ’strategic’ media credentials and Clarke

Hooper’s ’pragmatism’ as the keys to their success. The latter will have

a crucial role to play, liaising with electronics retailers, through

which much of the educational side of the campaign will be


As for the glitzy branding drive, AMV and Sethill have yet to come up

with the ’big idea’. But BDB will play off what he still believes to be

the downmarket perception of Sky. ’I don’t want to be the Sun on TV,’ he

says, quickly adding, however, that he does want Sun readers to


This upmarket but mainstream tack should also tap into mainly

middle-class Murdoch-haters and those who find the idea of installing a

satellite dish on the side of their house aesthetically pleasing.

Converting these people - and those who cannot physically receive

satellite or cable - is the focus.

The brand name itself has still to be decided. It may be BDB, but it

seems more likely that BDB will be a company that owns a brand with a

rather snazzier name. Whatever it is will ’remain a secret for a very

long time,’ Sethill says. It’s to be hoped that viewers know the name

before the end of the year, because otherwise digital terrestrial will

be late in arriving. The set-top box manufacturers have still to get the

go-ahead on production - although this is said to be imminent.

One other possible BDB trump card Sethill looks set to discard, however,

is price. Tempting as it may be to drive take-up by heavily undercutting

the pounds 30-pounds 40 cable and satellite monthly subscription rates,

Sethill says: ’If the sole reason for your existence is price, it

catches up with you.

It’s a short-term strategy. We’ll be comparable with the competition and

offer value for money.’

Sethill knows all about the perils of short-term, price-led marketing

from his days working as marketing manager at Alan Sugar’s Amstrad in

the late 80s. ’We had a fantastic record of success, almost unparalleled

even today,’ he says. ’Then we went through a period of decline.

But if you’ve only ever lived in a successful environment, there’s going

to be a gap in your education.’

That early experience of selling satellite dishes at the dawn of the

Murdoch revolution explains Sethill’s position at the centre of the next

one. But his knowledge of how to cope with the hard times that followed

should prove more valuable in the early days at BDB, which he knows will

be no picnic.