Media Headliner: Why the focus is on quality over quantity at ITV

Ian Darby speaks with ITV's marketing chief, David Pemsel, the man 'pushing the brand into new and interesting places'.

ITV is on a roll at the moment. And, surprisingly, given its recent history, it isn't a roll down a hill into oblivion. It pulled off the coup of landing the England and FA Cup football rights from the BBC, and it has also been winning plaudits, and audiences, for some of its recent programming.

Of course, it still has massive corporate issues, not least that of Contract Rights Renewal, but beyond that, the Michael Grade effect is being felt. And, unlike its pantomime villain, Tracy Barlow, who was found guilty of murder in Coronation Street last week, ITV is being given the benefit of the doubt by its jury of viewers and customers (the episode in question pulled in a peak of 13 million viewers).

Add to this the May relaunch of, which will allow broadband homes to access ITV programming for free, and ITV certainly has something to shout about. The man charged with communicating this is ITV's top marketer, its group marketing director, David Pemsel, who has been in the role since the departure of Clare Salmon last December.

Since then, Pemsel has been honing a new marketing approach of "doing less, but doing it bigger", focusing roughly the same off-air adspend (which was £15 million in 2006) on fewer but more impactful programmes and a cleaner identity for ITV1 and ITV's 2,3 and 4.

Where Salmon built a reputation as an offhand number cruncher, Pemsel has an image as a more creative marketer, as a man who is working hard with both commercial and programmers to deliver the right message.

Pemsel joined ITV as the marketing director in late 2005, after three months spent working on a project to sort out its in-house ITV Creative division. He and Salmon worked together for more than a year, forming what one source describes as "an uneasy coexistence", with Pemsel reporting to Salmon.

Pemsel, who previously had responsibility for the ITV brand strategy and the management of ITV Creative while Salmon oversaw programme publicity, says he has built a good relationship with Simon Shaps, ITV's director of programmes, and that this has been helpful in identifying the right shows to promote.

Pemsel came to ITV following a career in ad agencies. He went from Ogilvy & Mather to St Luke's (where he worked on the Sky business) and then had a spell at Elisabeth Murdoch's Shine production company, before he was involved, alongside his wife, Kate Stanners, in the ill-fated Boymeetsgirl ad agency venture with Andy Law. Pemsel fell out badly with Law and left the company.

Those who know him characterise him as a man with energy and flair. Tim Duffy, the chief executive of ITV's ad agency M&C Saatchi, says: "He's demanding in a good way; he's pushing the ITV brand into new and interesting places. He has a great feel for the brand - he knows it's not the BBC or Channel 4; it has a mass audience, but he wants it to be intelligent."

Pemsel's big challenge, in addition to helping to drive impacts, has been an attempt to make ITV1 seem more relevant and modern. He says he has introduced the idea of "oversteering" in its marketing, arguing that perceptions of ITV are so skewed in one direction that it needs to overcompensate. "We've had Primeval, Jane Austen and next we have Grease is the Word. We have over-invested in promotion to jolt people who say that we are only about celebrity, only about soaps," he says.

The plan is to focus on big programme promotions, carefully hand-picked to build ITV's profile as a quality broadcaster as much for the volume of viewers they attract. This has been the result of much debate internally. Pemsel says: "From last summer to the end of last year, we were pitching the idea that a big mass-market brand can behave in an upmarket way without alienating its core." He cites Marks & Spencer as an inspiration, and says Grade's arrival has galvanised energy and enthusiasm internally for the strategy.

Pemsel is at pains to point out how comfortable he is in the job and with the creative programme-making culture at ITV. However, he argues it's not about striding around town with programming people: "One minute I'm sat with Gary Digby (the managing director of ITV Sales), talking about hard numbers, and the next with Laura Mackie (the controller of drama), so I really need two hats. If I was just hanging out with programmers, Ian McCulloch (ITV's commercial director and Pemsel's boss) would have something to say about it."

His next big challenge is the relaunch of, a service that is counterintuitive to many at ITV, because it will effectively urge people not to watch television. "It's brave, because this company has made a lot of money from scheduling programmes and is now turning this on its head and saying you can schedule things when you want. Freedom and accessibility is being given over to the viewer," he says.

The launch will be accompanied by a large on- and off-air marketing campaign, while, alongside this, Pemsel faces the challenge of continuing to effectively promote the big ITV1 shows. He says: "If you look at what it takes to launch a show, it's almost £2 million, and to make decisions on what to promote requires careful thought."

He adds: "And we're responsible to shareholders. Channel 4 can have vanity moments: to spend £2 million on the launch of Film4 doesn't make commercial sense, but we have to live with that."

Age: 39
Lives: Stockwell, London
Family: Wife, Kate, and four-year-old son, Otto
Most treasured possession: Apart from family, derelict house in the
Interests outside work: Doing up derelict houses
Favourite TV programme: The X Factor
Favourite ad: Launch of Orange campaign
Last book you read: Blood and Sand by Frank Gardner
Motto: "What's the worst that could happen?"