At first glance, Charlie Ponsonby seems an odd choice to head Sky's
marketing effort. The digital TV market has come to resemble a bear pit
with aggressive battling for subscribers between Sky, ITV Digital and
the cable companies. So is the urbane and cerebral Ponsonby the right
man to lead Sky's brand through this tough terrain?
Before starting as Sky's marketing director this week, Ponsonby was the
commercial director of Open, the ill-fated interactive venture that was
wholly acquired by Sky last year. It was rebranded as Sky Active on
Monday, but the first charge that can be levelled at Ponsonby is that he
helped to preside over the stuttering start made by Open.
Ponsonby, a quietly impressive figure who is well over six-foot tall and
strikingly thin, argues that Open was a trailblazing service that has
prepared the ground for Sky Active, a service more tailored about
The road to Sky has been full of turns for Ponsonby. He studied
geography at Cambridge before joining an economic development
consultancy and travelling the world working on World Bank projects. He
left in 1992 to "get a job that pays the bills" at Andersen
His strategic marketing knowledge developed in a series of projects
undertaken for Unilever and the retailer Sears. He then leapt to Sears
to help run the Selfridges flagship store as a director.
Ponsonby helped Selfridges to turn itself from an unfashionable
operation into a well run store that began to attract young consumers
again. He left to join Open in early 1999 after completing a "change
programme" at Selfridges that included demerging the store from Sears
and launching a second store in Manchester.
The decision by Scott Menneer, the previous Sky marketing director, to
step aside, provided the opportunity for Ponsonby. Menneer, known as a
tough, uncompromising operator, will stay with Sky part-time to oversee
its on-air promotions and will devote the remainder of his time to
projects such as developing a new TV station for Sky.
As one source puts it: "If you work for Sky, you're a hired gun. It pays
top dollar and beats the shit out of you. Scott sorted out Sky's
marketing problems and now has the opportunity to do something
The job sounds punishing. Ponsonby, 34, will assume responsibility for
all aspects of brand management and above-the-line marketing, including
the relationship with Bates UK, Sky's ad agency of the past six
He will, however, be supported and nurtured at Sky by Jon Florsheim, his
former boss at Open and now the sales and marketing chief at Sky.
Talking to Ponsonby, who is charming and polite despite a struggle
against a terrible cold, his qualities become clear. As well as
appointing somebody who can wrestle with day-to-day marketing issues,
Sky has hired somebody with the nous to plan the long game.
Ponsonby says: "The long-term challenge will come when we hit our target
of seven million subscribers (it currently has 5.5 million). Everybody
knows there will be a glass ceiling somewhere so there needs to be some
way of breaking through this and convincing Middle England's terrestrial
viewers that multi-channel TV is a must-have."
Ponsonby is taking a thorough approach to familiarising himself with Sky
operations and is not leaping into immediate changes. He says he likes
the advertising that Bates produces and argues that Menneer has left him
with a well run, integrated department.
"Sky has a good brand proposition and the advertising concentrates on
the right things in the marketing of the programming platform," he
There is no doubt that Ponsonby understands retail brands. His time at
Selfridges provided him with valuable experience in the art of lifting
sales, but he emphasises that the Sky brand is at the heart of its
future marketing activity.
"Sky is a terrific brand and is backed by a strong product," he
"You can't overestimate the luxury of having such a strong proposition