The departure of Rupert Howell, managing director brand and commercial ITV, cannot have surprised anyone. He was simply too close to the tainted heritage of Michael Grade, formerly ITV executive chairman, to survive.
The chemistry of the new regime won’t have helped either: too many alpha males scrabbling for power in the boardroom. In that sort of environment, Howell definitely looked the weaker species. In Archie Norman he had to contend with a more commercially astute and interventionist chairman than his predecessor, and in Adam Crozier, a chief executive who had himself been a media man and advertising executive (with no doubt firmly entrenched views on how the business of TV sales should be conducted).
Moreover, Howell’s three year career at ITV has been chequered. He can hardly be blamed for presiding over ITV’s worst-ever sales slump, but he can be held to account for his poor relationship with media agencies. Howell, in a way, showed his age (about 53) in his refusal to deal with anyone but the top man. You can’t act that way with 27-year old media buyers these days – especially if you represent the diminished ITV brand.
So, high-handed and to a certain extent out of touch with the times. But Howell is nothing if not the Marmite media personality. Against his faults must be balanced great politicial skills. And there are many who admire him for his entrepreneurial drive, in the past. One of the most successful new business directors ever, he went on to found one of the most renowned advertising agencies, Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury – which, in the early nineties, really was cutting-edge.
I doubt that he will (even if he wants it) land another big job in media. There are plenty out there who understand the landscape better, but are having a hard time of it. Malcolm Wall, for instance. A move back to the world of agency networks (he was once regional director of McCann Erickson Europe) seems more likely and has more mileage in it. Literally. All that hopping in and out of aeroplanes must be murder. But the pay is good, and Howell would excel at the politics. He’s not afraid of a hard day’s work, either. Good luck to him.