MEDIA HEADLINER: Will Sky's new marketer take it beyond digital TV's ceiling? - Sky's new marketing chief understands the potential of the brand

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

programming content.



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

Consulting.



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

entrepreneurial."



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

months.



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

says.



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

says.



"You can't overestimate the luxury of having such a strong proposition

to market."