Profile - McArthur makes most of radio's assets

RAB chief executive Douglas McArthur lives and breathes radio - so it is no surprise that he is a favourite to head its newly amalgamated trade body. Julia Martin talks to the "bouncy" Scot.

It's been quite a year for commercial radio and the latest announcement that its two trade bodies are to join forces is keeping it in the spotlight.

From falling listener figures and the upheavals at GCap to the unprecedented media-owner collaboration of Radio Aid, the industry has ridden a rollercoaster of highs and lows in recent months.

And at the centre of it all has been the Radio Advertising Bureau - which celebrated its 14th anniversary this weekend - headed by chief executive Douglas McArthur.

McArthur has no illusions that the gloss has worn off radio's image since its mid-'90s heyday, but is resolutely upbeat about the future.

"I'm not saying everyone's chuffed that radio's down 4%, but it's not a catastrophe," he insists. "Everyone keeps going on about radio being in the shit, but we've got to get attention away from that, because it's not."

His passion for the medium is perhaps surprising, given that he claims his position at the RAB was "never intended". He took up the role after carrying out research for the radio industry as a consultant planner, the result of which he says was "beyond clear".

"People were ignorant about commercial radio and that wasn't their fault; that was the medium's fault for not telling them," he says.

Marketing instincts

His marketing instinct and appetite for a challenge got the better of him. Since bringing the trade body into existence in 1992, he has been credited for breathing fresh life into the medium, persuading advertisers of the opportunities it presents and initiating unprecedented alliances between media owners.

Now, as the RAB enters its new incarnation in fellowship with the Commercial Radio Companies Association, all eyes are on McArthur, seen by many as the man in pole position for the top job.

Although he won't be drawn on the subject, McArthur is an obvious candidate, having steered the group through a period of seismic change for the industry - most recently the arrival of digital radio, the resurgence of the BBC and the merger of Capital and GWR.

Media passion

As Steve Parker, UK buying director at Starcom, points out, not many can match him for experience and enthusiasm. "There are few people who have his passion for the medium, and there will be a benefit that he's been in the middle of the development and has clearly got a perspective on the direction of the industry," he says.

Parker is not alone in favouring him for the role. Guy Phillipson, McArthur's opposite number at the Internet Advertising Bureau, says he is the "star candidate".

"He's got good experience, especially in the Tsunami appeal radio initiative. If he can bring some of that thought to the new body, he will do very well."

Phillipson has known McArthur since 1997. As a marketer at Vodafone, he dealt with the RAB as an advertiser. He says the radio man always had a gift for communicating the power of the medium.

In fact, he went to McArthur for advice when it came to setting up the IAB, admitting the RAB provided him with something of a blueprint. "It's a good model for a media trade body," he says. "McArthur is forward-thinking, dedicated and focused. Sometimes he's so caught up in strategic thought that people could be copulating on the floor next to him and he wouldn't notice."

Speaking to those who've worked with him, McArthur comes across as a dichotomy of no-nonsense Scotsman and passionate enthusiast.

Justin Sampson, who worked with him as managing director at the RAB, comes up with one of the more unusual descriptions, claiming: "He's a bit like Tigger - bouncy and very enthusiastic."

One just hopes McArthur didn't do too much bouncing at his recent wedding ceremony - to management consultant Miranda Kennett - or the guests really would have found out if Scotsmen wear anything under their kilts.

The Burns party in January saw many of media's great and good feasting on haggis in recognition of McArthur's proud heritage. It is, says Phillipson, "part of the Douglas McArthur brand".

McArthur agrees, proving his credentials as a marketing man. "It's useful," he admits. "It at least makes me more memorable. And we run the Government, of course."

Whether or not it is he who runs the new amalgamated radio body, McArthur is clear about the challenges it faces. "We've got to work out how we can harness the fact that, now we've got three big groups, how do we stand up better to the BBC. Audience and audience research are hurdles, and getting back on the front foot image-wise. We need to get people to understand that this is a forward-looking, exciting medium."

It's difficult to see McArthur, whose lesser-known background as a theoretical physicist has given him a taste for problem solving, walking away from such challenges.

CV

2000-present: Non-executive director, IMD plc

1999-2005: Non-executive director, Sanctuary Group Plc

1992-present: CEO, Radio Advertising Bureau

1987: Member of Council; chairman, drama committee, Scottish Arts Council

1985: Founder, Baillie Marshall Advertising

1983: Sales & marketing director, Radio Clyde

1982: Head of UK marketing, Campbell's Soups

1979: Co-founder and commercial director, Town Art & Design

1978: Director, Hall Advertising

1976: Marketing manager, Scottish & Newcastle Breweries

1973: Brand management, Procter & Gamble.

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