Marketing ITV – it’s all about content, stupid!

Does marketing really belong in the commercial department? Not according to ITV’s new bosses, who have just made it a subset of content creation.

How serious they are about the proposition is, of course, a matter of debate. At one level – the level of employment lawyers – what’s going on looks suspiciously like constructive dismissal. Change the senior reporting structure in a company and you potentially diminish the authority and budgetary power of those who are “reorganised”.

That’s certainly one interpretation of the imminent departure of group marketing director David Pemsel and head of research Chad Wollen, announced yesterday afternoon. Only a week ago, it emerged that marketing and research, hitherto separate and under the control of the commercial department, were to be integrated and rerouted to content czar Peter Fincham (aka director of television, the chief commissioning role).

The conspiracy theory gains traction when we consider what else has been happening at ITV recently: chiefly the sacking of most of the old guard. After commercial director Rupert Howell fell on his sword and was replaced by Fru Hazlitt, we have had a very crowded departure lounge. Studio bosses Lee Bartlett and Remy Blumenfield are queueing at the exit, as is online director Ben McOwen Wilson.

And that’s just scratching the surface. Underneath, a full-scale cleansing of the Augean Stables is underway, as chairman Archie Norman and chief executive Adam Crozier take a pitchfork to the “shambles” (their word) of the Michael Grade regime. Humiliating psychometric tests applied to the 120 senior managers who remain add a defining touch to this melancholy picture. (I bet Crozier wishes he could have applied those self-same tests to the board of the Football Association during his tenure as chief executive – now there’s an organisation that really isn’t fit for purpose.)

Yet none of the above is inconsistent with implementing a strong, alternative, strategic vision; some of it already apparent in the quality of new senior hirings. Hazlitt is widely viewed as an inspired choice to succeed Howell. Her natural enthusiasm and client-servicing skills should help to repair damaged relationships with media agencies. She also “gets” digital (just as well really). Mind you, how she will co-exist with Gary Digby, master of the dark art of  TV trading, is a moot point.

Moreover, vesting more power with strong programme-led talents such as Fincham and Kevin Lygo – poached from C4 and now head of production (or ITVS, as it is called) – surely makes a lot of sense. The Grade regime talked a good game about improving the quality of content, but in reality it was fixated on refurbishing a brand built around yesterday’s trading system.

Witness the amount of corporate energy spent in repealing (fairly unsuccessfully, as it turned out) the Contract Rights Renewal (CRR) regulatory straitjacket encasing its main, analogue, channel – ITV1. Just to put things in perspective, here are a few statistics. When in 2003 Carlton and Granada merged to form ITV, the flagship channel’s share of the commercial television audience was 43%. By the end of 2008, it was 28.5%. Add in ITV’s (relatively neglected) digital channels and the figure rises to over 40% again. And yet, ITV has singularly failed to monetise that digital presence. Last year, online revenues were only £35m, up from £23m in 2006.

I’m not necessarily saying the Crozier/Norman 5-year plan will work– maybe nothing can at this late stage. But at least it represents a reality check firmly breaking with the nostalgia of the past. Superior programmes, especially hit shows that travel effortlessly across the multimedia and geographical landscape, are the only way ahead. In that sense, putting marketing at the service of the creative department is a no-brainer.

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