Bernard Balderston is a private person and not just in the Procter
& Gamble sense of the word. As media manager of the UK’s largest
advertiser and a Proctoid of many years standing, Balderston is
naturally an international-class No Commenter. However, he is also
rather bashful, not at all ’meejah’ and somewhat uncomfortable with the
idea of being profiled, friends say.
He is not the only one: his agencies are a tad nervous too. Balderston
is orchestrating the review of Procter & Gamble’s pounds 207m UK media
spend among its roster agencies, news of which broke last week
(Marketing, July 2) and which may have something to do with their
One came close to offering a carefully constructed sentence of praise
but shied off at the last minute for fear of appearing to be a
Apparently, trying to ingratiate oneself with Balderston goes down like
an Argentine footballer in England’s six-yard area. However, those
unfettered by commercial interest are more forthcoming.
John Hooper, former P&G man and director-general of the Incorporated
Society of British Advertisers, describes Balderston as ’a consummate
professional, and certainly one of the most experienced and
knowledgeable clients in the area of media’.
Nick Phillips, director-general of the Institute of Practitioners in
Advertising, says: ’I shouldn’t think there are many clients who have
comparable media knowledge.’ Balderston, who is an active member and
former chairman of ISBA’s TV committee, is always fair, focused and
fully prepared for meetings, adds Phillips.
’He is very determined, very focused on the objective and can’t be put
off the scent by trivialising it, avoiding it or other people’s
ignorance of it. He is serious, fair, thoughtful and always does his
homework,’ Phillips says.
Bob Wootton, ISBA’s director of media and advertising affairs, paints
him as someone who talks softly but carries a big stick. ’He also brings
considerable circumspection, forward-thinking and good humour wherever
he’s involved, and is rightly one of the most respected media clients.
He is a potent ally and, I would imagine, a most dangerous foe.’
Anyone who has sat at a negotiating table opposite the 53-year-old
Newcastle United fanatic will testify to his strengths as an opponent.
Wily, tough, determined, intimidating, threatening and bloody-minded are
the most popular descriptions. ’He is very good, unfortunately,’ says a
battle-scarred campaigner through gritted teeth. ’Most media controllers
don’t do it as well as him; he extracts every single penny’s worth of
value from his budget,’ he adds - and you can almost hear his fillings
Balderston knows what he wants and how to get it, and if that means
having to be a right bastard on occasion, he’ll do it, sources say. ’He
likes getting his own way. He does things his way or not at all, so if
you don’t agree to the price (he wants to pay), he’ll walk away.’ Given
the size of its budgets, P&G’s absence is usually painful for media
The phrase ’doesn’t suffer fools gladly’ is often euphemistic shorthand
for pompous, arrogant, short-tempered old git. It conjures up images of
the ’I didn’t get where I am today by being open-minded’ types. But not
in this instance. Although almost everyone contacted for this profile
used the phrase as one of their first descriptions of Balderston, it was
tempered with tales of his lack of airs and graces and his willingness
to listen to juniors.
Fools in his book are people who offer ludicrous prices, lack sufficient
knowledge of his brands or try to dupe him. Transgress these tenets and
you will find the door closed to you, if not forever then as near as
dammit. ’He has a tremendously long memory,’ says one source.
Yet the flip side to this professional stringency is an entertaining
lunch companion who is happy to sit next to pretty much anyone at the
Christmas party. He doesn’t go in for the party round and tends to avoid
showy events, but is a regular at rock concerts with his teenage
He remarried a few years ago, which friends say has both mellowed him
and given him a new lease of life. ’When you are that happy in your
personal life, it shows,’ says an admirer.
Balderston was one of the first client media experts - he assumed the
position in the early 80s, having been at P&G since 1968 - and his has
been a defining presence. ’In a sense everyone has grown up around him,’
says an industry source. ’Twenty years ago he was on his own, now most
of the big clients have people in that position.’ He has both incredibly
detailed knowledge of media and a genuine understanding of the big
ISBA, IPA and his many supporters in industry agree that he has made a
significant contribution at industry level.
’I don’t think that P&G has ever fully appreciated the contribution he
has made to it,’ says a source. ’Over the years he must have saved it
literally hundreds of millions of pounds.’
Many testify that Balderston isn’t an easy character to get to know.
He is reserved, serious and there is a touch of the headmaster about
He is quintessentially English and has impeccable if somewhat dated
manners - women are still ladies in his book who shouldn’t be subjected
to vulgarity, standing up or opening their own doors.
However, he also knows how to neck a beer and have a good time and once
you have won his respect he is a fiercely loyal friend.