Well, hello there. It's me, the new, er, Claire Beale. Her fans
should not despair, however. I'm temporary until she returns from
Let's start this week's column with a choice French phrase: plus ca
change, plus c'est la meme chose, which means the more things change,
the more they stay the same. That's how it feels taking up this column
again five years after handing it on to Ms Beale.
I'll explain. Back in 1991, when I first started writing about media,
one of the big talking points was a concerted campaign by the national
newspapers to woo advertisers off TV. Times were very tough (Norman
Lamont was chancellor - enough said) so stealing share from rival media
was the order of the day. And good knockabout stuff it was too,
involving Oxford statisticians and hidden cameras to prove that, when
the telly was on, people weren't actually watching it.
All of which we knew anyway, although that didn't stop it being a
constructive argument. Where it went wrong was when a) it became
personal, and b) both sides started to criticise media buyers and
clients for the way they spent their money. Doh! It's not clever to
suggest your clients are stupid.
Everybody dug in, and instead of a decent debate we had an argument that
was like two deaf people shouting at each other by megaphone.
Ten years on, the cast of characters may have changed, but the issues
haven't. This time round, the row has been sparked by trade press ads by
the Radio Advertising Bureau claiming that advertisers can get a bigger
bang for their buck by taking a small amount of their TV money and
putting it into radio. There's nothing new in this claim - the RAB has
been successfully pushing this line for a while and some big advertisers
have bought it.
Note, also, that the RAB is not claiming that TV doesn't work - merely
that, at the margins, radio is an effective multiplier of a client's
And yet, to judge by the reaction of Carlton's sales boss, Martin
Bowley, you'd think the RAB had kidnapped his children. He's a-huffing
and a-puffing, ringing up the trade press to claim clients critical of
ITV are being misquoted (as if!), firing off angry letters to clients
and generally on the point of internally combusting. Indeed, I'm told
colleagues in TV sales are rather hoping that he does since he is now an
embarrassment to them.
And all this kerfuffle over a medium that takes just 6 per cent of
display advertising. If all national radio advertising moved into ITV,
it still wouldn't fill ITV's revenue gap this year. However, the real
damage is to ITV's credibility. For all its difficulties, it's still the
biggest national medium in this country. It should behave as though it
is, and not like a bully picking on the smallest kid in the playground.
If ITV really thinks radio is the problem, then I fear it may have lost
its grip on reality.