Has the sun set on Dawn Airey’s ITV ambitions?

April 25, 2009

The question, now that Michael Grade has been dislodged as ITV chief executive, is: will Dawn Airey want the job anyway?

In the dream-team line-up of a year ago Airey – very much a Grade protegée at that time – looked by far the strongest internal candidate as his successor. John Cresswell, chief operating officer, is too faceless; Rupert Howell, commercial director, has certainly got the personality but lacks a serious track-record in top-level TV management. The other internal candidate, head of programmes Peter Fincham, had only just joined as Airey left, after facing the music over the BBC’s “Crowngate” fiasco (an improbable saga of Her Majesty spitting tin tacks backwards). At any event, he would be unlikely to present Airey with serious competition if she were to throw her hat in the ring.
But will she? Airey quit as ITV’s head of production, essentially, because Grade broke his word. He had given everyone to believe that he would step down as chief executive in 2009. But such was the gravity of ITV’s crisis, and the extent of his vanity, that when his much-touted programme-led recovery failed to materialize on schedule, he decided to extend his tenure by another year. Result: Airey lost patience and jumped aboard the nearest sea-worthy vessel, Five, as chief executive. Irony number one: had Airey stayed, given her strong previous record as managing director of Sky Television and her ruthless boardroom skills, she would now be contemplating becoming chief executive of ITV a year earlier.
Irony number two. Five has its problems. As a johnny-come-lately terrestrial channel, its audience is too small, and too ill-defined, for it to survive long term in the era of digital multichannel TV. Indeed, a merger has already been proposed with Channel 4 as a solution to their collective troubles, though this seems to have gained little traction with the industry or the regulator, Ofcom. On the other hand, Five is wholly owned by RTL (and eventually Bertelsman, the biggest media owner in Europe). Should break-up, or takeover, of ITV ever emerge as the preferred solution to its intractable problems, then RTL would have to be in the frame. For Airey, would it be better to bid for the present ITV job or bide her time?
If offered the ITV job, it might well be because ITV shareholders see her as a handy exit strategy. Who better to manage the handover of the company to RTL? In which case, she would not hold the job for very long, though she would be a great deal richer at the conclusion of business. If, on the other hand, she stays on at Five, the merger might never happen. In which case, she will have passed by a great opportunity, perhaps her only opportunity, to be chief executive of a significant broadcast media company.
Of course, Airey is not the only external candidate to be fancied for the job. Tony Ball, former chief executive of BSkyB, and Stephen Carter, currently communications minister (but for how much longer?), must be considered formidable alternatives. Carter came close to being offered the ITV job last time round, after a half-way decent stint as coo at stricken cable company NTL, but lost interest after it emerged that Grade was going to be not the non-executive but the executive chairman.
Right now, Grade is merely a lingering embarrassment – a chairman stripped of his executive powers. Any of the external candidates would make his instant dismissal a precondition of taking the job. All that he is doing by staying is blighting the chances of the internal candidates.

Ash in the mouth for Fallon

April 22, 2009

What goes around, comes around. The BBC has recently recruited Ash Makkar, a former Teletext marketer, to oversee the marketing of BBC2, BBC4 and BBC Knowledge. One of Makkar’s principal concerns over the next few years will be to deflate the division’s bloated budget. So it will be no surprise to find, in due course, his eagle eye fastening upon the advertising agency roster. One agency in particular may feel a little vulnerable: Fallon London, which once fired him.

Sainsbury’s will move to BBH – and pigs have wings

April 22, 2009

Where do these rumours come from? The latest one circulating the ad industry is that the £50m Sainsbury account, starring superchef Jamie Oliver, is about to move – without a pitch – to Bartle Bogle Hegarty. No one would be more surprised than AMV.BBDO, the incumbent for donkey’s years, or indeed BBH – if it were so lucky as to win the business.

The rumour almost certainly originates in Claire Harrison-Church. Not from Harrison-Church herself, I hasten to add, but in what she has done, and where she has come from.
Earlier this year, H-C replaced Helen Buck as brand communications director of Sainsbury’s. In other words she now has hands-on (though not exclusive) responsibility for the ad account. Looking more closely at H-C’s track record, we notice an uncannily close association with BBH over the years. She was once brand director for Lynx at Unilever and later marketing director of fried chicken retailer KFC. It is also said that BBH helped her, in some unspecifiable way, to get her last job at Boots.
All that does not mean, I’m afraid, that BBH is about to receive a handsome return on its investment. Marketing directors aren’t that grateful or, in Sainsbury’s case, that powerful.

>Sly play with media regulation

April 18, 2009

>I’m not sure I fully understand the logic of Sly Bailey’s position, outlined at the Digital Britain summit, although her ulterior motive for adopting it is clear enough.

The chief executive of Daily Mirror-owner Trinity Mirror hit out at “gargantuan national newspaper websites designed to harness users by the tens of millions” which, “by performing well on search engines like Google, … have eroded the value of news.” Step forward, presumably, the Sun, The Guardian and the Mail as villains of the piece.

Bailey’s ultimate target is the dotcom news aggregators, such as Google News, which she roundly condemns for first pirating other people’s news, then commoditizing it around search optimization.

“A consumer is now as likely to discover newspaper content on Google, visit our sites, then flit away before even discovering that it was the Daily Mirror or the Telegraph that created the content in the first place,” she said. “Or worse, they may visit an aggregator like Google News, browse a digital deli of expensive-to-produce news from around the world, and then click on an ad served up to them by Google.”

In other words, everyone – consumers, dotcom portals, and advertisers on them – is getting a free ride except the publishers who actually pay for the content in the first place. No wonder the media is in crisis and experienced journalists are being discarded like autumn leaves by our major newspapers and free-to-air broadcasters.

Bailey is quite right, of course. But she goes on to suggest the newspapers have exacerbated the trend by building mega-news sites with the explicit intention of performing well in organic search. Her solution is to loosen the regulatory straitjacket, at present preventing newspapers from merging, in order to confront the challenge of the internet.
“Any merger regime which does not take Google, Yahoo, Rightmove and Monster into account simply isn’t fit for purpose,” she said. She’s presumably banking on Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report to come up trumps at the end of June.
Personally, I wouldn’t put too much money on it. First of all, I’m not sure how making the newspaper industry still more concentrated is going to help combat the challenge of the internet. If anything, concentration would accelerate the trend that Bailey is decrying. Secondly, the suggestion is politically naive.
If politicians took a strictly utilitarian approach to media, they might just agree with Bailey. But they don’t. Their main concern is to ensure that the newspaper barons, and specifically the house of Murdoch, do not become any more powerful than they already are. For God’s sake, these media dynasts can influence the outcome of elections and put you into the political wilderness for years!
However, Bailey speaks with the conviction of desperation. The way her company is going, it will soon disappear of its own accord if it is not allowed to merge with something more powerful. And I don’t mean by that Johnston Press.

>Teufel! The car in front is a Toyota

April 17, 2009

>Gloom everywhere in the car industry. Chrysler is going for a song to Fiat… and GM is going, well, bust  – in a carefully managed, politically sensitive sort of way. And it’s not much better in Europe. Sales of new cars across Europe fell by 9% in March 2009 compared with a year ago, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association.

But wait, what’s this? In Germany, Europe’s largest car market, sales are actually up – and by an astonishing 40% last month. The reason for this anomaly is not hard to fathom. It’s called scrappage, which means the state doles out cash (€2,500 in Germany) if you exchange your old banger for a new, or near-new, vehicle. Wunderbar! Let’s all have more of it. Even at this moment Alistair Darling is preparing a parallel scheme for the Budget, and Gordon Brown has as usual gone overboard by promising to save the consumer – if not the world – £5,000 on the cost of a new electric car. Never mind that these vehicles are, to date, technically inadequate for most daily usage.

Before getting over-excited let’s take a closer look at the German scheme, for all is not what it seems. Yes, car sales have soared. But have the German car marques – BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Audi and VW – been the main beneficiaries? No they have not. Not many of their models, even in nearly new condition, are priced under €10,000. The cars in front are foreign-owned Toyota, Nissan and Honda. So much for propping up the German car-manufacturing sector.

It’s no wonder Sarko thinks German chancellor Angela Merkel “doesn’t get it”.

>Campbell Lace – the Beta version

April 9, 2009

>Goodness me. After some last minute shenanigans, the rumour really has born fruit. Lace Campbell is shortly to be an established fact. Actually, the new agency is going to be called Campbell Lace Beta. Who is Beta – the planner perhaps? No it’s an idea borrowed from the internet, presumably meaning work in progress. The agency launches in May. This last detail can be inferred from its icon, a maypole – which is also, they tell us, a symbol of riotous pagan creativity. Can we be sure you’re not leading us a bit of a dance, Garry? 

>Innocent until proved guilty

April 7, 2009

>To listen to the media backlash, you’d think Innocent, the smoothie maker, had just signed a pact with the devil – media-friendly founder Richard Reed being cast in the improbable role of Dr Faustus.

Successful businesses don’t continue to be successful by standing still. For quite some time now, Innocent has been underpowered, both in its product range and geographical spread. As Reed tried to explain to a hectoring Eddie Mair on Radio 4, if Innocent doesn’t grasp the smoothie opportunity in other, virgin, European markets then the big battalions will rip off their ideas and do it themselves. 
But where do they get the money to do it? Would anyone have objected to a bank about a year ago? Would that have been an unacceptable compromise of Innocent’s wholesome ethical brand stance? I don’t think so, because Innocent managed to secure a £32m credit line from HBOS (yes, HBOS) without anyone raising so much as a squeak of dissent.
But substitute Coca-Cola for HBOS and what do you get? Universal vilification: accusations which range from naivety to downright cynical hypocrisy.
Lighten up. Innocent is a business not a charity. Where else, in this climate, is the money going to come from –  a private equity house? Don’t make me laugh. And, by the way, what’s so bad about Coke holding a fairly small minority stake, maybe 15%? 
Ah, you say, this is where you’re being naive. It’s all part of a carefully premeditated plan… you wait, in 5 years’ time the Innocent founders will be on their way, rich beyond the dreams of avarice, leaving behind the husk of an ethical food company which has been sucked dry by the parasites at Coca-Cola.
Come on. Just as McDonald’s did to Pret A Manger, which bought back their 33% stake last year?

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