OPINION: QUESTION TIME WITH ... Caroline Hughes - Computers sometimes get the better of Freeserve’s ad chief, Lexie Goddard writes

Caroline Hughes has a recurring nightmare. There are only hours to go before her wedding and she’s forgotten to buy a dress.

Caroline Hughes has a recurring nightmare. There are only hours to

go before her wedding and she’s forgotten to buy a dress.

Her mother tells her not to fret and whips out some white sheets from

the airing cupboard. Ma Hughes then sets about wrapping the sheets

around her panic-stricken daughter, armed - in classic Blue Peter

fashion - with nothing more than a roll of doubled-sided sticky


At this point, Hughes junior wakes up in a cold sweat, relieved to find

she does, in fact, own a real wedding dress. Freeserve’s advertising

sales director has a busy summer ahead of her. She is in the process of

organising her August wedding for 140 guests - ’my mother has waited for

this day all her life’ - at the same time as finding 30 staff to take

over ad sales for the UK’s biggest ISP.

The 32-year-old, who joined Freeserve at the start of the year, began by

talking to DoubleClick about expanding the sales house’s Freeserve

account team.

However, the portal has been growing rapidly. It has more than 240

content agreements and houses 150 sites. It dawned on Hughes that

DoubleClick would need to double in size to handle Freeserve the way she

wanted and she realised she would be better off bringing ad sales


’We just outgrew DoubleClick,’ explains Hughes. ’The scale of Freeserve

is now so broad that Eric (Stein, DoubleClick’s managing director) and I

would have spent practically all our time managing the


At the moment, Hughes’s days are taken up with interviewing prospective

candidates. A few names are tentatively scribbled in pencil next to job

roles on the diagram of her dream team. She has found a head of agency

sales but is still missing two sales managers, a sponsorship manager,

someone to sell Freeserve’s women’s portal iCircle, another to sell its

business and finance site and a ’sales evangelist’ to preach to agencies

about what Freeserve is doing with emerging technologies like WAP. And

that’s just for starters.

The idea is to stop agency planners and advertisers thinking of

Freeserve as merely one site and to push its women’s, careers, money or

business platforms as portals in their own right.

Dedicated sales people will sell their own site and offer packages

across a variety of Freeserve portals. ’For example, advertisers can

reach women through the money page of iCircle and buy space in the

financial area of our shopping site as well as on the financial site and

the homepage,’ explains Hughes.

It is interesting to discover that only two years ago, Hughes

reluctantly took on a project to assess whether the new-fangled concept

of selling advertising on the internet could be a viable


Hughes had moved from Universal McCann Worldwide, where she worked on

the Coca-Cola account, to take a job in Granada’s commercial enterprises

department. In the new role, she was responsible for developing

advertising opportunities across Granada’s companies. These ranged from

product sampling at Forte hotels to the international bartering of

Granada programming and the internet.

The web thing took off and Hughes found herself at the sales helm of

Granada Media Interactive, in charge of generating revenue for ITV’s

Formula 1 website and its entertainment channels. Then the phone rang

with a tempting offer from Freeserve.

’The internet was still considered geeky in those days,’ Hughes


’I hated it. I remember saying ’Me? Work on the internet? I don’t even

know how to turn on my computer!’.’ She then admits: ’Sometimes I still


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