PROFILE: Media grandmaster - BERNARD BALDERSTON MEDIA MANAGER PROCTER & GAMBLE

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.

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

reticence.



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

crawler.



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

grinding.



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

owners.



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

children.



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

picture.



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

him.



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.