Media: All about ... TV sales houses

Broadcasters are accused of losing their sales nous. Alasdair Reid reports.

With the honourable exception of Viacom Brand Solutions, television sales houses were conspicuous by their absence at last week's Campaign Media Awards.

Of course, the sales teams from other media (and they were out in force) are more than prepared to offer reasons why this might be. They are likely to argue, for instance, that the medium has gone off the boil. There is a common assumption that if a client ups its spend on search marketing, it will take the cash out of the TV budget. It's seen as an unequal fight.

Meanwhile, it sometimes seems as if TV has no digital story of its own to tell. Yes, you can now play more content off broadcasters' websites, but that is not as compelling as the story that publishers have to tell as they reinvent themselves as multiplatform brands.

In contrast, the TV sector is rocked by scandals and lacking in confidence. That, some observers say, is why you rarely see TV sales houses shouting from the rooftops these days. They are detached, distracted and rather cowed - and happier during the crude number-crunching "negotiation season" (this year's will drag on, in some cases, until January) than being out there selling the medium.

It is no great surprise, however, to find that the TV sales houses don't exactly see things in quite the same light. They are particularly stung by suggestions that they are not adequately engaged with the communications planning process at agencies or, indeed, the creative community. They counter that they have actually increased their commitment in terms of resources and headcount.

1. Viacom Brand Solutions being named TV Sales Team of the Year at the Campaign Media Awards points not just to its commitment to innovation. It also recognises the house's lead role in promoting television advertising as having a positive role to play in society. This is a combination of forward-thinking virtues indicative of the way the organisation continues to punch well above its weight. Led by the managing director, Nick Bampton, it launched in 2001 and now employs 73 staff, four of whom work in the Insight team headed by Agostino Di Falco. The house points out that it also expects innovative propositions to be generated by its 12-strong marketing partnerships team.

2. Channel 4's sales operation is claimed to have been the first to set up a strategic unit - founded by Mike Parker in March 2000 - to liaise with media planners and advertisers. Parker, whose job title is head of strategic sales and commercial marketing, leads a team of 11 within Channel 4's 155-stong sales division. One of Parker's most important initiatives was the broadcaster's TV Planning Awards, which launched in 2004. Responsibility for the fifth event - expected to take place next summer - has been handed over to Thinkbox.

3. The broadcaster taking the greatest strides in this area is arguably ITV. In October 2006, it announced a radical restructure of its sales operation, including the creation of an integrated planning division overseen by Simon Orpin, who was promoted to the role from sales controller. He moved quickly to build his team, which includes Andy Griffin (previously at Naked Inside), Elaine Goulden (formerly at ids and Universal McCann) and Simon Armstrong (previously at Primesight). It has launched an "Ad Innovations" programme to help agencies develop new ways of approaching creative formats on TV. A "Planner Inside" programme, meanwhile, sees senior planners invited to spend a week at ITV, learning about the opportunities that exist across the broadcaster's businesses. Including Orpin, the team employs 15 staff and works alongside a 15-strong, client-facing advertiser relationships unit led by Nicky Buss. ITV's total sales headcount, including regional, is 400.

4. Sky Media's 3Sixty team has ten staff within a 200-strong division. 3Sixty is overseen by Graham Appleby, the head of client marketing and communications, and Jeremy Tester, head of insight.

5. The commercial development team at five, reporting to Jonathan Lewis, will have doubled in size this year if, as expected, its headcount expands to 20. It sits within an 85-strong airtime sales operation. The ids sales house has a team of eight within the commercial development division, reporting to Guy Martin.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...

TV REVENUES

- It is somewhat ironic that, at a point when the TV medium is investing in innovation to a greater degree than ever before, its sales operations are still perceived (in some quarters of the industry) as being less clued-up and innovative than their publishing counterparts.

- It is still far too easy for other media sectors to revive the old accusation that TV companies have never been much good at selling - as opposed to overseeing an inventory rationing system.

- The TV sales teams may argue (and they do) that the people who matter, including the planning community and clients, think differently.

- That may be true, but the fact that the medium is not projecting a particularly confident image - at an individual sales-house level at any rate - must inevitably have real consequences. Other media sectors are not ashamed to take advantage.

ADVERTISERS

- Meanwhile, the good news, from a pure advertising point of view, is that the television companies are gearing up to continue an ever-more sophisticated dialogue with advertisers, planners and the creative community. This has to be applauded.