SPOTLIGHT ON: TV SALES HOUSES: Can Carlton give Westcountry a far bigger slice of the cake? - Sceptics claim that Martin Bowley is still living in the past, Alasdair Reid writes

It had to happen sooner or later. Last week, Carlton announced it will sell Westcountry’s airtime, officially with effect from June, but in reality from the end of this month (Campaign, 7 March).

It had to happen sooner or later. Last week, Carlton announced it

will sell Westcountry’s airtime, officially with effect from June, but

in reality from the end of this month (Campaign, 7 March).



Carlton Communications acquired the west of England contractor last

November and Carlton would have absorbed its sales right away if it had

not been chasing the HTV contract. Because Carlton was already close to

its legally permitted market share, it couldn’t take both sales tasks on

board and HTV was the bigger prize. HTV, though, has decided to stay

where it is at TSMS.



Even so, the Westcountry addition makes Carlton the biggest TV sales

house, with 34 per cent of ITV and almost a quarter of the whole

television market.



And that’s likely to grow even larger. Martin Bowley, the managing

director of Carlton UK Sales, promises an immediate turnaround in

Westcountry’s performance. It took 2.42 per cent of ITV network revenue

in 1993 but that has fallen to 2.27 per cent last year. Could do better,

Bowley reckons.



He should know - he was sales director of TSW, the company that lost to

Westcountry in the last franchise review.



’When I was involved, the region took a 2.6 per cent share,’ he

says.



’Our ambitions will be to keep the company’s share closer to that level

than last year.’



Bowley may be determined to return in a blaze of glory, but haven’t

things moved on a bit? TSW used to be charming and eccentric. Bowley’s

boss used to tootle down leafy Devon lanes in his Rolls-Royce, smoking a

fat cigar, heading for Budleigh Salterton to tie up another big deal.

There was usually a stuffed rabbit called Gus Honeybun in the passenger

seat.



Can Bowley boost the Westcountry share? Many buyers say its current

sales house, TSMS, is a collection of very diverse regions. TSMS can’t

play the London card - but without even mentioning the words

’conditional’ and ’selling’ in the same sentence, a sales house like

Carlton with a London station can bring pressure to bear on

advertisers.



Andrew Smith, a television buying director at the Media Centre, believes

Bowley can do it. ’Carlton will focus on only three regions so it will

be able to giveWestcountry a greater focus and perhaps greater resources

than TSMS,’ he says. ’Making it easier to buy would be a help - smaller

stations can take as long to buy as London. That puts some people

off.



The fact that Bowley and others there know the way the region works will

also be an advantage.’



Others are more sceptical about the value of local know-how. ’Things

have moved on immeasurably since Martin Bowley worked for TSW. The

picture’s an awful lot bigger these days,’ Juliet Eaton, a television

buying director at Mediapolis, explains. ’On the other hand, the region

will seem more important when it is being sold alongside two such

important regions as London and Central.’



But Paul Taylor, the joint media director of BMP DDB, is not so sure.

’The main beneficiary of revenue decline in regions like Westcountry has

been London. But that’s got a lot to do with a change in the mix of

brands on TV these days. Companies in the growth sectors want to focus

on urban regions and London in particular.’



But that’s not all. ’In an inflationary market, advertisers that can’t

guarantee they will rise above the threshold of visibility in all

regions will concentrate on core areas. The fringe regions will suffer.

When a retailer is putting pressure on a manufacturer to support its

brands, Plymouth doesn’t always have the highest priority. Carlton has

helped to expand the London share but that doesn’t necessarily mean it

can do the same for a smaller region.’



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