TV: ITV's Commercial Cabal

They are responsible for handling £1.6 billion-worth of advertising spend, so who are the people who now run ITV Sales? Jeremy Lee gives a run-down of the major players.

In December 2003, two months before ITV plc, born out of the merger of Carlton and Granada, traded on the stock market, Graham Duff had assembled the guts of the ITV Sales executive board (the only exception, Justin Sampson, was appointed the following month).

The task at hand was massive - integrating two different sales teams, three different research departments, as well as more than two million individually booked spots, into one location and one airtime trading system.

In the background, employment law meant that everyone in the organisation had to re-apply for his or her job so, given that the workforce was about to be slashed, it was also extremely sensitive.

The stakes were high, too. ISBA and the IPA had lost the argument that a single sales point would wield too much power and with £1.6 billion of advertising now in the hands of a single company, it was crucial that the sales merger was as swift and painless as possible for the new ITV plc board, which had seen its reputation battered over recent years.

The new sales executive would have an elevated status within the organisation - the merger had finally rid ITV of its famously dysfunctional structure. With the two major shareholders in the ITV network centre reduced to one (Scottish Media Group and UTV are minnows), the sales department would have a greater say in the programme commissioning process than ever before.

But who are the people with the commercial power in the new ITV?

While Duff and his sales director, Gary Digby, are well known in media circles, some of the rest of the board are less familiar by nature of their back-office jobs. We meet the people who are ultimately responsible for generating the biggest budgets in commercial television.

GRAHAM DUFF - Managing director

Duff was the first employee of ITV Sales and it was his job to shape the structure and create the culture of the 400-strong organisation.

As a former chief executive of Zenith Media, he had been one of the old ITV's biggest customers and with his intimate but objective knowledge made no secret of his frustrations with the failings of the previous organisation.

He instigated massive structural changes at the company, which saw the departure of some of ITV's long-standing employees. The reason? Many of them were not very good at their jobs.

Granted carte blanche by the chief executive of ITV Broadcasting, Mick Desmond, Duff sought to rid the organisation of the historical compromises both in staff and structure that had been a characteristic of previous ITV consolidations.

Under Duff, ITV was to be less negotiation-focused, with advertiser and agency relations, an area that both Carlton and Granada had historically neglected, pushed to the top of the agenda.

Duff wears his power lightly, but the commissioning editors at the ITV Network Centre are under no illusion that he is the paymaster.

Duff is popular among his peers and there was little doubt that he would be the man appointed to run the new organisation. However, now the big task is done, how long will he want to stay?

GARY DIGBY - Sales director

Formerly the sales director of Carlton, Digby could be dismissed as the epitome of the old ITV. But then negotiation is by definition a confrontational business and Digby is one of the toughest negotiators around.

He is responsible for all commercial aspects of the business beyond just ITV1 airtime. With Contract Rights Renewal giving ITV Sales the potential for a major headache this negotiation season unless audiences improve dramatically, the additional revenue streams will be crucial.

While additional interactive and online revenue will hardly make a dent in the potential £90 million-plus CRR deficit, regional advertisers, sponsorship and new-to-TV clients (who are immune from CRR) will become of increasing importance.

Digby's focus on regional business is already paying dividends; it is expected to add £200 million to the ITV coffers, up 20 per cent on last year.

Sponsorship is also a growth area and outside of CRR and with all of ITV's prime peak programmes, there has been progress in this area too.

ITV could be in for a rough ride this negotiation season but, with the launch of ITV3, there is growth potential in the new ITV "family" of channels.

Primarily agency-facing, Digby has encouraged his department to have greater contact with planners to fulfil Duff's vision of meaningful agency contact - no mean feat for battle-hardened TV salesmen.

JUSTIN SAMPSON - Director of customer relationship marketing

Sampson caused a bit of a stir when he joined ITV Sales from the Radio Advertising Bureau as its new head of client sales.

ITV had seen nothing like him before - mild-mannered, articulate and with a vision for ITV to engage, rather than bully, its customers. He breezed into 200 Gray's Inn Road with his moleskin suits and case studies in January.

While Sampson acts as a foil to Digby, he is not lacking in substance.

He has identified three key areas within the organisation that he wants to change in order to engage with ITV's customer base.

Under the "values of fame" banner, he is seeking to re-establish the virtues of TV advertising to the trade. He is also trying to engender more effective dialogue with clients by creating a more relevant approach with advertiser contact. This is, of course, easier said than done, but initial reports are favourable.

The final, and perhaps most important, part of his role is driving the customer relationship management ethos, espoused by Duff. This is to ensure that all contact from ITV Sales is customer-centric in order to rid the organisation of its old image of being arrogant and aloof.

Sampson, arguably, has the hardest job of all the executive board - the results of the audit of customer views could make for uncomfortable reading, but at least will give him a base to work from.

ANDY BAGNALL - Director of knowledge management

You may not realise, given his remarkably low profile, but it was Bagnall who should be given a great deal of the credit for getting the ITV merger through the various regulatory bodies in the first place.

Bagnall may hide his influence with his backroom-boy image, but his department is the fulcrum for information within the whole ITV organisation.

It has a pivotal role between sales, the Network Centre and ITV plc.

As such, it is his team that identifies viewing trends and whether certain TV programmes are working or not, so he works closely with ITV's director of programmes, Nigel Pickard, on fine-tuning the schedule.

As well as producing forecasts, analyses and research data for both programming and sales, Bagnall has a team of lawyers to ensure that ITV is complying with the terms Ofcom has imposed upon it, and that all deal letters comply with CRR. He is also ITV's representative on the Barb board and manages ITV's relationship with Scottish Media Group and Ulster Television.

While he has worked his way up the TV sales ladder, Bagnall now plays a key role within the plc.

With the jury still out on whether CRR was a price worth paying for the merger, a large part of the credit or blame could end up at Bagnall's feet.

JILL KERSLAKE - Director of sales operations

When the merger finally received approval, it was Kerslake's job to enable the back-office sales operations to cope with the demands of a single sales house.

The scale of this project was gargantuan - ITV Sales was given 50 different sales areas to trade but before this could happen two-and-a-half million spots had to change their airtime management system.

With a 200-strong department, Kerslake has the biggest part of the ITV Sales machine to manage. But then its importance is crucial; it is up to her and the sales operation team to ensure the accurate transmission of airtime and delivery of agency deals.

The average month sees 700 different advertisers in 300 categories booking a total of 110,000 spots across ITV and Kerslake is responsible for ensuring that none of these accrue excessive credit or debt. If one did, ITV's ad revenue stream could be under threat.

The quality and demographic make-up of the schedule and its dayparts are therefore vital and Kerslake works with David Bergg, ITV's director of scheduling, in order to get audience supply as close as possible to advertiser demand.

Kerslake is an advocate of customer relationship management and, as she and her team are at the coalface of dealing with agency buyers, this is key to ensuring perceptions of ITV are positive for the next generation of broadcast directors.