SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY: Rob Gray reports on the thawing of relations between cinema sales houses Carlton and Pearl & Dean

Not so long ago, the UK’s two cinema sales houses were involved in a feud of Godfather-like proportions.

Not so long ago, the UK’s two cinema sales houses were involved in

a feud of Godfather-like proportions.

Stories about the bad blood between Pearl & Dean and its bigger rival,

Carlton, are legion.

Until its takeover by Scottish Media Group for pounds 22.2 million

earlier this year, Pearl & Dean was headed by the larger-than-life Peter

Howard-Williams, frequently referred to as Mr Cinema and as famous for

his unrepentantly flamboyant lifestyle as his pivotal role in the


Legend has it that shortly after Howard-Williams joined Pearl & Dean

from the then Rank Screen Advertising (now Carlton), a wreath arrived at

his new offices. Nobody knew where it came from - but they could


After this year’s takeover, Howard-Williams was replaced by Christine

Costello, formerly SMG’s newspapers commercial director. Surprisingly,

there appears to be little enmity between her and Carlton Screen

Advertising’s managing director Debbie Chalet.

In an unprecedented move, the two great rivals have been working

together to find a replacement for Barclays, which had been the official

sponsor of UK cinema. The pounds 10 million, two-year deal was put

together by All Industry Marketing for Cinema (AIM), an alliance of

cinema operators and movie distributors. The package gives the sponsor a

presence at the start and end of trailers.

Chalet confirms: ’Christine and I have been out and done client

presentations, which is a first. It caused quite a stir, us sitting in

reception together.

We’ll always compete on costs, but it’s ridiculous not to work together

to increase the size of the cinema advertising cake.’

Of course, the past rivalry between the two sales houses may well have

been hyped out of all proportion. That’s only fitting for an industry

built on hype. Let’s face it, even before it opened, we all knew that

The Matrix was all about incredible effects (as opposed to acting or


We were well aware that the fourth film in the Star Wars series was

actually the first ’episode’. And even if you don’t get out much, you

probably know that The Blair Witch Project is a cult success in the


Fortunately for advertisers, all this hype means plenty of people go out

a lot - and it’s usually to the movies. Back in 1988 there were 78

million cinema admissions. Last year there were 135 million.

Event movies like The Phantom Menace have played their part in driving

up attendances, but so has the improved quality of the cinema


This has been led by the spread of multiplexes, which usually come

equipped with good parking and retail facilities. Multiplexes account

for over half the screens in the UK and 60 per cent of all


And there’s still room for more. The UK still only has four screens per

100,000 people, compared with 11.8 per 100,000 in the US. Multiplexes

will continue sprouting up in new locations. An estimated pounds 600

million will be spent by exhibitors (industry speak for cinema chains)

in the next four years. Another projection has it that by the end of

next year there will be 3,200 screens in the UK, up from 1,366 in


Yet despite this growth, cinema remains a relatively small advertising

medium. Last year it attracted ad revenue of pounds 97 million, just 1.1

per cent of all media spend.

The market is split between Carlton and Pearl & Dean on a roughly 70-30

basis. It seems unlikely that the long-standing duopoly will be

challenged in the near future. However, there is one possible contender

waiting in the wings.

In the summer, Australian exhibitor Hoyts opened its first UK site at

the Bluewater retail park. Its sales agent Val Morgan decided not to set

up a full-blown UK operation on the back of such a minimal presence,

preferring to work with Pearl & Dean. However, should Hoyts expand

significantly in the UK, it is conceivable that Val Morgan could enter

the fray.

’If Hoyts was to suddenly build 10 more cinemas it’s possible that Val

Morgan might start building a UK sales team of its own. That would be an

enormous change in the market’s dynamic,’ says Carlton’s managing

director Debbie Chalet.

For the moment, though, it is just the two. According to Laura Dedman,

media planning manager at Initiative Media, who plans and buys a

significant amount of cinema for a number of Unilever brands, there are

differences of style between them.

She says: ’Things may change with its new owner, but in the past Pearl &

Dean was the less dynamic. Although it can be very accommodating with

ideas, Carlton is quite rigid, which has maybe filtered through from the

TV side. But it’s quite aggressive in the way it chases business,

frequently getting in touch to find out what’s happening with a brand.’


There can’t be many people who would not instantly recognise the Pearl &

Dean theme tune, containing as it does more pa-pas than a complete

retrospective of Renault Clio commercials. But from having been the

dominant player in the market, Pearl & Dean went from pa-pas to faux


At one point, its share of the cinema advertising business plunged to

below 10 per cent. Thankfully, recent times have seen a turnaround in

its fortunes. Market share has risen 400 per cent over the past six

years and Pearl & Dean now accounts for almost a third of the revenue in

the sector - no longer a distant second place to Carlton.

On 7 June this year the company was bought by Scottish Media Group for

pounds 22.2 million. SMG immediately moved Christine Costello,

previously the commercial director of its newspaper business, into the

managing director’s chair.

’SMG has sales expertise in TV, newspapers and outdoor, so we can share

information and ideas,’ says Costello. ’The thing about cinema is its

growth - it’s been growing even faster than radio. Do people know


I don’t think they do. So we’ve got to shout about it.

’Looking forward, not every medium is faced with such a rosy picture. We

and Carlton can push the medium forward. And there’s lots of good film

product coming out in 2000.’

Unlike Carlton, Pearl & Dean does not have a dedicated client sales


Instead, under highly experienced national sales director Craig Harris,

there is a ’lean’ team of nine bringing in national business from

agencies and clients alike, plus a local sales force of six.

The company has contracts with exhibitors such as Showcase, Cine-UK,

Apollo and the rapidly expanding Warner Village, which has 222 screens

but aims to double that by the end of the year.

Pearl & Dean was formed in 1953, when it landed the contract to sell

advertising for over 400 ABC screens. Its brand heritage still opens


Says Costello: ’There’s lots of emotion tied up with Pearl & Dean . We

are seen as people who know about cinema.’

Like Carlton, Pearl & Dean has developed a number of packages allowing

advertisers to reach specific audiences. They include a children’s

package that enables advertisers to target children and parents - a

strong proposition, given that families make many purchasing decisions

together. There is even a package of Bollywood movies for buyers

attempting to target the Asian audience.

Another sales tactic is to stress the memorability of cinema advertising

- big screen equals big impact. Additionally, regular cinema-goers tend

to be ’early adopters’, a much-prized category.

As cinema advertising is a growing market with only two sales houses,

the rivalry between Pearl & Dean and Carlton is serious but no longer

cutthroat. In any case, most national advertisers book campaigns that

run on screens represented by both. Still, there’s no doubt that Pearl &

Dean would like to close the gap between the two even further.


’It’s an odd business,’ admits Carlton Screen Advertising managing

director Debbie Chalet as we chat in her Golden Square office. ’You

don’t have control of movies or own the cinemas. And you are trying to

keep two sets of clients happy: the cinema owners and the


What also appears odd to those outside the cinema advertising market is

that there are just two sales operations. It is a market dynamic that

has remained more or less unchanged since the early days of cinema

advertising in this country.

Carlton is the clear leader in the field, with about 70 per cent of the


It has contracts to sell advertising for major exhibitors (called

circuits in industry parlance) Odeon, Virgin, UCI, ABC and Oasis. It

also represents a welter of smaller players.

Chalet has a TV background, having worked for Carlton, Granada and


She was promoted to sales director, following the departure of Adam

Poulter to launch Carlton’s cinema advertising operation in the US.

Carlton acquired the UK business that had once been Rank Screen

Advertising - remember the man banging the gong? - in 1996 from venture

capitalist Schroders, which had briefly renamed the operation Cinema

Media. From the outset, it was clear to Poulter and Chalet that cinema

was an under-exploited medium.

’For a start, we didn’t have a client team,’ says Chalet. ’So it’s

hardly surprising that clients weren’t spending consistently on cinema -

they never saw anyone trying to sell it to them.’

Today, Chalet has a six-strong client sales team. Additionally, there is

an agency team of 13 and a regional sales operation of four, working

alongside representative agency Medialink.

Two years ago Carlton also had a direct sales team of 22 that

specialised in selling cinema advertising to local businesses. This team

has now been pared down to seven in recognition of the fact that

national advertising is far more lucrative and desirable to put on

screen. Moreover, Carlton no longer accepts local advertising on 35mm

film, restricting it to slides.

’When we bought the business it jarred with me,’ recalls Chalet. ’So now

we don’t sell moving image to the local advertisers at all. You’ll no

longer see the hideous curry ads of yesteryear as parodied by


In the past, Chalet admits, cinema advertising was often sold on the

basis of it being ’sexy and interesting’. She adds: ’These are still

good sells, but we need to support it with a few more reasons.’

In essence, this means offering different kinds of buy - for example,

segmenting groups of films to provide better targeting.

As well as guaranteed admissions packages, buyers can opt for a screen-

by-screen choice enabling them to target geographical areas, packages

for reaching arthouse or family audiences, or the option of running

their ad with specific movies. Carlton also sells foyer promotions, such

as internet company AOL’s cross-promotion with the movie You’ve Got


Carlton also owns production and distribution operation NSS, giving it a

relationship with the movie makers. In the US it is investing in digital

distribution, which over the next five to 10 years will revolutionise

cinema advertising, doing away with the costly need to make prints for

each screen. And through the development of its Technicolor

Entertainment brand in the US and further afield, Carlton will soon be

in the position to offer an international cinema buy.

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