Alasdair Reid reports that TV saleshouses now prefer the brand-
On past performance, it isn’t unknown for agency people to cross the
divide into the media-owner world. For instance, two of Carlton’s senior
sales staffers, Steve Platt and Gary Digby, had previous incarnations at
Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and IDK Media respectively. But the flow has
been mainly in the other direction, with agencies keen to buy in people
with sales expertise and deploy them against their former employers.
Times have changed. A couple of weeks ago, Mark Swift, a group head at
BMP DDB, said yes to the offer of an account director position on
Channel 5; and last week Tony Wheble, the broadcast director of Abbott
Mead, accepted the job of airtime controller at United Artists
Programming’s sales operation.
When Platt crossed the fence, the media owner was buying top negotiation
skills and an insight into client and agency ways of thinking. All of
that is still important, but these days the rationale has shifted
slightly - agency people are now being sought for their sensitivity
towards branding issues as well as their negotiating nous. In the
future, so the argument goes, airtime sales will be far less commodity
driven and the best airtime sales staff will have agency backgrounds. It
sounds good in theory. Will it work?
Tony Kenyon, a partner in IDK Media, is sceptical. ‘A good TV buyer
makes a good sales person and vice versa,’ he states. ‘There are a lot
of skills common to both jobs. But I’m not at all sure that the branding
of TV channels will gain in importance. I think it could go the other
way - towards a commodity sell. When Murdoch launches 500 new channels
there won’t be enough hours in the day to think about their branding.’
Richard Burdett, the vice-president of sales at United Artists
Programming, takes a different view: ‘Most of the new channels that
people talk about will merely be a 100 different starting times for
Coronation Street,’ he says. ‘But I believe that thematic - and
therefore branded - channels are here to stay.
‘Of course, we’ll need people with real experience of airtime trading on
a day-to-day basis and audience size and price will remain a big factor,
but the marketing of what a channel offers will become equally
important. Agency media people have the skills that will matter.’
Nick Milligan, the sales director of Channel 5, says that until Swift
joins, none of his team will have experienced a buying review or the
media auditing process. ‘We don’t have ITV’s clout, so we need agency
expertise to help us to be more user-friendly,’ he explains.
There’s a more cynical way to look at this, though. In the 80s agency
people hardly ever crossed the divide because media owners couldn’t
afford them. Agency salaries were outrageously large and there was
always the prospect of a Porsche being thrown in. Agencies were also
sexier back then - certainly compared with the somewhat Neanderthal
image that some ITV sales departments seemed desperate to maintain.
And then came the recession, cut-backs and redundancies. Agencies and
media specialists lost their economic ability to compete for the best
talent and their image also lost a bit of its gloss.
So, isn’t television just a far more glamorous place to be these days?
Many agency people will tell you privately (and grudgingly) that there’s
a lot of truth in that. Burdett certainly agrees that it’s a factor:
‘Before I came here I was at Saatchi and Saatchi and then at Grey. There
was a real buzz about the agency world in the 80s but that volatility
and dynamism has disappeared. Many agencies are struggling with the
concept that you can do things other than commercials. TV is the
exciting place to be at the moment.’