Profile - Wildman leads IDS to fresh challenges

James Wildman, excutive sales director of IDS, believes the TV trading system is in need of an overhaul and sees in-house ad production as a revenue opportunity. Julia Martin reports.

Wildman by name, wild man by nature? Most definitely not, laughs the executive sales director of Flextech sales house IDS. In fact, James Wildman, full of smiles and proffering freshly brewed coffee, comes across as one of the nicest, most down-to-earth men in media.

Don't be fooled into thinking that this isn't one smart operator, though. After a tough first half, he has turned around IDS's fortunes in the past few months.

While former boss Mark Howe, now at Google, quips that "I taught him everything he knows", he is full of praise for his protege. "He is one of the most creative, lateral media-thinking sales people I've met," he says.

Proof of Wildman's success is that, despite a difficult first six months, IDS is celebrating a 17% revenue growth for the second half of 2006 - "against a market that's absolutely struggling", he points out proudly. And it is finishing the year on a high, having just signed up its first sponsor for the launch of its newly acquired sports partner Setanta's golf channel, the Royal Bank of Scotland, in a six-figure deal.

"It's been a year of two halves," he admits, referring to the over-trading situation the team faced earlier this year that left it owing money to some of its clients. Wildman is upbeat though, insisting they are back on track and will finish the year "bang on". The eternal optimist even manages to put a positive spin on the disappointing performance during the year's first half.

Bold decisions

"The reason for the wobble was because of ambition," he claims. "We took a few fairly bold decisions on a number of channels; for example, Trouble moving into general entertainment on the EPG. We knew it would go backwards to go forwards."

Likewise, he says, the move to reposition Bravo as a "cerebral" channel for men. The strategy has paid off though, he insists, and vindicates his assertion that "we're always thinking about how we can improve the product we offer to advertisers".

That offering now looks set to include far more than its current 17 pay-TV channels, which also includes the UKTV brand, and the additional three sports channels through the Setanta deal.

Since NTL's merger with Virgin at the beginning of the year, the cable company's raft of TV channels has been brought together with Branson's empire of new-media platforms, including - perhaps most significantly - Virgin Mobile.

While Wildman remains tight-lipped over a much-rumoured rebrand as Virgin Media Sales - conceding only that "in six months the picture might be quite different" - he admits IDS's role could expand to cover selling some of these new platforms. "There's potential," he says. "Virgin Media Group is arguably the most convergent media owner in the UK and has a significant head start on the competition in terms of broadband."

"Collaboration" peppers Wildman's conversation and is something that clearly drives his whole approach to business. He talks enthusiastically about the firm's move back to Flextech's HQ in Great Portland Street, after a brief sojourn across the road, because it brings him back closer to the production teams with whom he works closely.

Creative work

In fact, working with producers is something that IDS is doing increasingly, as it now creates ads in-house for clients. "One area we've been very successful in this year is innovation deals. We've done more than 50 and every one has required us to produce creative work - competition spots, advertorials, sponsorship, and so on," says Wildman.

He believes the creative model needs to fundamentally change, explaining: "Creating an ad that then gets played on a network basis misses the opportunity that exists now, which we'd suggest should see more creative executions [tailored to particular channels]."

Warming to the subject, he confesses: "I love all our customers, but the industry isn't taking full advantage of all the opportunities. The real benefits of TV come down to segmentation, engagement and interactivity."

In fact, despite a clearly genuine passion for the TV industry, which he claims is "changing for the better", he believes it needs an overhaul - not least the trading system.

"We've arrived at a place where, if you started with a blank piece of paper, there's no way the industry would look like this. The way TV is traded is anachronistic," he ventures. "That's a bit contentious considering I'm in the bear pit of negotiations at the moment, but compared to 20 years ago it's not that different, which is pretty strange considering how much the industry has changed."

Wildman sees his role, as IDS figurehead, as challenging the "modus operandi", but admits it's a big task as "so many ways of working have become hard-wired into the industry".

With his energy and with Virgin's vast weight now behind him, one gets the impression it's a task he's more than matched to

CV 2003 Executive sales director, IDS

1999 Sales controller, Flextech Sales

1998 Sales director, Universal Studios Networks

1996 Sales controller, GSB (joint venture between Granada & Sky TV)

1993 Group head, GMTV

1989 Graduate trainee to group head, TVS.

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