Watch out, there’s a Hytner about – Jim takes the helm at IPG’s Initiative

March 4, 2012

Interesting to see that Jim Hytner – whose career has more switchbacks to it than the mille miglia – is once more emerging triumphant from the quicksand of a career in marketing.

Hytner has just replaced long-serving Richard Beaven as worldwide chief executive of Interpublic Group subsidiary Initiative. Beaven (a surprisingly urbane man for the head of a media-buying house) has apparently left to spend more time with his passion for photography, an alternative vocation he says he has toyed with since childhood.

While none of this is to be doubted, we wonder whether he was also uncomfortably lodged in a career cul-de-sac. Beaven was once seen as a successor to Nick Brien when Brien left Mediabrands (the overarching arm of Interpublic’s media operations) to take on the top job at McCann Worldgroup. But the Mediabrands role instead went to Beaven’s chief rival at Universal McCann, Matt Seiler, who has been aggressively reorganising McCann’s media operations ever since.

Anyway, enter Jim. He’s relatively new to the world of media buying, having joined another IPG subsidiary, Universal McCann’s G14 (essentially the bits that aren’t America), as its boss only two years or so ago. Like Brien, he’s a Brit who has done rather well in the upper echelons of American-dominated McCann – the traditional breadbasket of Interpublic Group. There, however, the parallel ends. Where Brien is essentially a media services specialist who has made it into top agency management, Hytner’s much more colourful career has embraced the full ambit of marketing: he’s been an FMCG client; marketing director at some of Britain’s top television companies; client at one of Britain’s leading banks; a digital content wonk; and is now trying his hand – seemingly successfully – at the agency business.

The first thing to note about Jim is he is the youngest scion of a talented and very competitive family. All three Hytner brothers – the sons of a successful Manchester barrister – have set the bar high in their chosen fields. Nicholas, now Sir Nicholas, is the director of the National Theatre with such successes as the Madness of George III and The History Boys to his name. Richard, a lawyer by training and a Sloan Fellow of London Business School, is now deputy chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide.

“Cheeky chappy” Jim, less cerebral than his two brothers (they went to Oxbridge; he went to a redbrick), gives every appearance of being a lot more entrepreneurial. Certainly the young Hytner was prepared to give anything a go. First, like his eldest brother, he tried to tread the boards, but this was trumped by a potential career as a chef de cuisine. The way he tells it, his attempts to follow in the footsteps of Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay stopped dead one night, when thanks to a kitchen shift at the exclusive Miller House Hotel in the Lake District, he suddenly realised he was going to miss the 1985 FA Cup Final between Manchester United and Everton. To say that Jim is fanatical about Manchester United would be a considerable understatement. He (like more self-effacing elder brother Richard – though I’m not so sure of Sir Nick’s views on this subject) eats, lives and breathes the club’s highs and lows. “It’s the one final I’ve ever missed in my whole life, so I thought I can’t be doing with this hotel lark,” he tells us. Haute cuisine‘s loss was marketing’s or, more specifically, Kraft’s gain.

To this day, football analogies are never long absent from Jim’s utterances. And, in truth, it is a passion that has stood his career in good stead in the laddish, sports-mad environments of Sky TV, ITV – where he was marketing director – and (dare I mention it?) media buying circles. Though what Americans make of all this “soccer” talk, I have no idea.

Will Jim ever reach the top – conceivably, in time, replacing Brien? Over the years, Hytner’s maverick antics have made him a rather endearing fixture of the UK marketing scene. But they have also raised questions about his gravitas. This, after all, was the man who dreamt up those infamous idents of celeb TV personality Keith Chegwin in the nude when he was marketing director of Channel 5. What Jim may choose to call “brave” others in the industry characterise as controversy for the sake of controversy. He did something to allay this enfant terrible reputation during a (comparatively sober) stint as UK marketing director of Barclays Bank. But it remains to be seen whether he has mellowed sufficiently in his middle years…


VW’s Super Bowl ads – from “Little Darth” to just plain daft

February 2, 2012

Commercially, it’s the greatest show on Earth, with 30-second spots commanding over $3.5m apiece – an up to 30% increase on the previous season. ITV chief executive Adam Crozier can only gaze upon his 2016 Rio Olympics slots, wish he was at the helm of NBC, and despair.

Yes, it’s the Super Bowl, coming your way (if you have satellite or cable) this weekend – a US sports fest so intense that no advertiser of substance – in cars, beer, movies, softs drinks or snacks – can comfortably afford to exclude itself from the 111 million expected viewers and not-to-be-surpassed Nielsen awareness ratings.

So great advertising too? Frankly, despite the unique showcase, most ads aren’t as super as they might be. That’s for a variety of reasons. Some clients like to play it safe (and can you blame them, with that amount of money at stake?). Others overdo it. Drunk with earlier success, they get too tricksy and self-referential.

I wonder if Volkswagen and Deutsch LA haven’t fallen into that trap. Last year, they stole the show with “The Force” (aka “Little Darth”), which made Nielsen’s coveted annual “Most Liked” list and took a Cannes Gold Lion for dessert.

This year, they’ve stuck to Star Wars but gone for animals rather than children. See what you think:

I’m afraid I’m with the Dark Father on this one. The bloke with the funny prosthetic nose is just plain wrong.


Digby down, but never mind. ITV bonanza on the way – CRR is going too

January 13, 2011

Say what you like about him, veteran ITV sales director and professional rough diamond Gary Digby will be sorely missed.

One rival, reported in the FT recently, put it this way: “Media buyers will now see ITV as an easier place to do their negotiations and will expect to save millions.”

A back-handed compliment if ever there was one. Digby and the three senior members of his staff who also got the boot have been closely associated with ITV’s Lazarus-like commercial recovery last year. Conservatively, ITV made about £1.55bn from advertising revenue in 2010, an increase of over 15%.

Fru Hazlitt, the new ITV commercial director who did the booting, evidently sees root-and-branch restructuring of the sales department as a vital prerequisite to streamlining ITV’s analogue and digital offer. Which it may well be. But the media buying community has a different take on things: Kelly Williams (ex-Channel 5) and the rest of the Hazlitti imports are going to be a push-over by comparison with the Digby regime.

Personally, I wouldn’t like to speculate on how weak the ITV ratecard will be from now on. I make just one observation. If relief is ever needed in the ITV Alamo, then the cavalry is certainly on its way.

Yes, Jeremy Hunt – the newly empowered government media czar and part-time culture secretary – has unambiguously signalled that he intends to abolish Contract Rights Renewal – the advertiser-friendly sales corset that squeezes tens of millions of pounds off ITV’s revenue line every year. The only trouble (from ITV’s point of view) is that some waiting is involved before the relief arrives. Hunt intends to bundle repeal of the hated constraint into the Communications Bill which may, or may not, pass into law by the end of next year.

What Hunt’s motives are we can only guess. Some point to his ideological preference for laissez-faire capitalism. Others, more politically cynical, suspect that the CRR gesture may not be unconnected to Hunt’s invidious task of adjudicating the Murdochs’ controversial bid for the 61% of BSkyB they do not already own. After all, what could be more even-handed than to wave through both measures? Strictly in the interests of media plurality, you understand.


BSkyB – nearly the company with the UK’s biggest marketing budget

January 4, 2011

Will BSkyB soon become the UK’s biggest marketing company? It’s a sobering thought  – especially for those who, like culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, must now consider whether Rupert Murdoch and his son James are fit and proper guardians of the 61% of the broadcast media company they do not already own. What will they do with unfettered control of all that money – not so much when it is directed at ITV and the BBC (the case already), but at BSkyB’s non-broadcast rivals?

In fact, BSkyB is still some way from being the company with the biggest marketing budget. The latest Nielsen figures, which leaked out just before Christmas in The Telegraph, reveal that BSkyB has now moved into number two position behind Procter & Gamble in the advertisers’ league table: not quite the same thing, but the most reliable indicator we have in these matters. The main casualty – inevitably given what has happened to it – is the Central Office of Information. For some years the COI sat on, or very near, the top of the pile. Its fall from grace has been melodramatic: despatched from top to fifth place, with spending slashed 47% to settle – for now at – £112m. There’s no likelihood of it getting back.

BSkyB, on the other hand, increased its spend 20% to reach £161m. But even that wasn’t nearly enough for it to become top dog in the near future. P&G put on another third – giving it an unassailable lead at £189m. Unless of course BT, currently 7th with a spend of £104m, continues its phenomenal 44% multiplication of spend for the next three years (unlikely, I suggest).

These Nielsen figures are interesting indicators, but they need to be viewed with considerable caution. Although they purport to record expenditure to the end of the calendar year, there are a number of caveats; for example, there is no internet spend included for the last quarter (a significant omission). They are, moreover, merely a ratecard indicator: they do not tell us what was actually spent after discount. Finally, they do not record all forms of marketing activity. And some of these excluded sectors, like POP, are absolutely massive.

For all these imperfections, however, the Nielsen figures reveal a remarkable truth. BSkyB has become one of the UK’s most powerful companies, and it has done so in large measure through the intelligent application of marketing.


Vince hands BSkyB to Murdoch on a platter

December 21, 2010

It would appear the Scourge of Capitalism (aka business secretary Vince Cable) was bent on doing exactly what I earlier predicted. That is, committing a gross act of hypocrisy – in the clandestine manner of the bankers he so despises – by rigging the market to get the result he wanted.

This is the only reasonable interpretation of his unguarded remarks to two Telegraph undercover reporters about “declaring war on Mr Murdoch”. He is of course referring to his supposedly impartial role in adjudicating the acceptability of NewsCorp’s bid for the 61% of BSkyB it does not already own. For the avoidance of doubt the guileless minister of the crown went on to explain to the two reporters – posing as constituents: “I have blocked it [the bid] using the powers that I have got and they are legal powers that I have got…”.

Actually, that last bit is a tad premature. Ofcom is not supposed to report back on whether there is a prima facie case for referral to the Competition Commission until December 31st. But Vince was clearly confident that he had Ofcom in his pocket and could press ahead with a referral on the public interest grounds of an infringement of “media plurality”. The beauty of such grounds is that they reside entirely in the realm of political value judgement rather than the rigorously factual analysis of any threat to competition. And given that Cable would have had the final word, Murdoch & Co were clearly going to be thwarted.

No longer. Vince is off the case (indeed, he is off any adjudication of media competition cases from now on), although he has narrowly managed to retain his job. And culture media and sport secretary Jeremy Hunt will take his place. As a Tory, Hunt does not carry Cable’s Lib Dem ideological baggage; and if he does harbour any personal animosity towards the Murdoch clan it has so far remained scrupulously off the record.

Which is just as well. In the circumstances he will find it politically excruciating to deliver the thumbs down. The European Commission has just waved through the bid on competition grounds. That leaves the public interest argument. But this, too, is looking increasingly shaky when assessed on any fair-minded basis – as it will have to be in the wake of Cablegate. The legal precedent was set when the last government forcibly caused BSkyB to divest most of its 18% stakeholding in ITV. Ironically, the stated grounds were that NewsCorp’s then 39% holding in BSkyB posed a threat to UK media plurality. If you’re already a threat to media plurality when you hold a controlling 39% interest in a company, how is owning the rest of the shares going to make a material difference?

As political fiascos go, this is a corker. The Scourge of Capitalism has ended up performing a humiliating act of public self-flagellation. In the process, he has damaged Ofcom’s independence and almost certainly brought about the result he most feared: the strengthening of Rupert Murdoch’s commercial interests.

En passant, he has also damaged The Telegraph – one of his allies in the Murdoch matter, if no other; although Cable can hardly be blamed for that. The Telegraph deliberately suppressed Cable’s anti-Murdoch comments, presumably on the grounds that they harmed its commercial interests. Only because some nameless Assangeite felt that editorial integrity had been inexcusably compromised did the scoop come into the capable hands of BBC business editor Robert Peston.

I bet they’re laughing up their sleeves at Osterley Park and Wapping. I can’t say I blame them.


ITV’s new broom Crozier fails to sweep CRR under the carpet

November 3, 2010

It’s always refreshing to see a new broom sweeping clean, and Adam Crozier, recently installed chief executive of ITV, did not disappoint as he squared up to a House of Lords select committee this week.

Among the invigorating insights he privileged us with was an admission that ITV programmes were crap. Sorry, I’ll rephrase that in commercial media-speak. ITV has been driven into a “ratings rat race” by burdensome regulations that force it to produce low-quality, cheap-to-produce, popular programming (such as The X-Factor?). When what it should be doing is investing in high-quality but low-ratings programmes about the arts (such as Lord Bragg’s recently disbanded South Bank Show).

Crozier’s agenda, is of course, to blame the woeful quality of ITV’s current schedule on Contracts Rights Renewal (CRR), which ITV lobbying has so far failed to repeal. He reckons it has cost the broadcaster £262m in lost revenue since its introduction in 2003.

That kind of argument may play well with people on the Lords communications committee (like Bragg himself) but it will be received with hollow laughter at ISBA, the advertisers’ trade association.

If ITV isn’t about building mass audiences for advertisers, then what is it about? Excuse my cynicism, but Crozier’s argument is precisely the one usually wheeled out by commercial broadcasters to batter the overmighty, “ratings obsessed” BBC. Isn’t the BBC the broadcaster which is supposed to concern itself with piddly arts programmes that cater to a minority audience – leaving the commercial boys to graze unmolested on the sunlit prairies of popular fare?

Crozier will have to do better than that if he is ever going to convince advertisers of the need for a CRR rethink.


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