MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON: MEDIA BUYING AND SELLING SKILLS; Are agencies losing some of their best media staff to TV?

Alasdair Reid reports that TV saleshouses now prefer the brand- orientated sell

Alasdair Reid reports that TV saleshouses now prefer the brand-

orientated sell

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.’

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