Media's marketers walk the line

Marketing directors working for media owners occupy a dual role that leaves them open to potential conflict of interest situations. Media Week finds out how senior marketers in the media sector reconcile these issues.

Media's marketers walk the line
Media's marketers walk the line

Marketing directors and media owners have a mutually beneficial relationship. Marketers rely heavily on media channels, working with media agencies to secure advertising inventory that is a good fit with their target audience and delivers brand and tactical messages in a cost-effective manner.

For their part, media owners rely on advertising and sponsorship revenue to fund content and - hopefully in the current climate - turn a profit.

This transaction is straightforward, the bread and butter of the media world. Yet in an age when even newsprint is seldom black and white, the relationship between marketer and media owner is often more complex - particularly in the case of marketing directors at media owners.

Such individuals straddle the dividing line, operating as both media owner and client to the media agencies that plan and buy space on their behalf. This dual role throws up potential conflict issues.

For example, if a marketer at a media owner decides to switch media agency, there is a danger the agency, aggrieved at being dumped, might retaliate by removing the media owner's properties from the schedules it prepares for its other clients.

A spate of high-profile appointments has focused attention on the pressures and challenges facing senior marketers at media owners. Most recently, Global Radio appointed Giles Pearman as its new group director of marketing, replacing Nicola Thomson, who is moving to New York.

In February, Roland Agambar, former marketing director for The Sun and the News of the World, defected to rival Associated Newspapers as chief marketing officer, and News International duly hired former Sainsbury's and Coca-Cola marketer Jeremy Schwartz as chief marketing officer.

In April, ITV appointed former Freeview director of marketing communications Rob Farmer as director of viewer marketing, reporting to ITV's group marketing director David Pemsel.

So how demanding is it to be a marketer in the media sector? And just how much do the potential conflict issues actually impinge?

ITV's Pemsel maintains he sees no direct conflict between being a media owner and a client. Pemsel, who would only change his agency "if there was a clear rationale to do so", says: "I wouldn't worry about any repercussions from changing our media agency. Business is business and the stakes are too high for waywardness."

ITV judges an agency's performance on criteria including audit, innovation and buying. If the agency performs on ITV's range of metrics, Pemsel says there is no need for change. He adds he is unaware of any situation where a deposed media agency has taken revenge on its one-time client by boycotting its media outlets.

Jean Faulkner, marketing director at Condé Nast, who has run six pitches since assuming her present role, also denies that ditching an agency or failing to appoint an agency after a competitive pitch would provoke a serious backlash.

She says: "The standard of pitches gets higher each time and you build a relationship with all the pitching agencies. I know it is really disappointing when agencies don't win our business, but I don't believe they would take any of our titles off a media schedule simply because they didn't win our account."

She adds: "They might send a YouTube link of a scene from The Godfather as a joke, but top media agencies are professionals, experts at their jobs. Such an action would go against the interests of their own businesses and the needs of their clients, so I'm confident it wouldn't happen among the kinds of agencies we deal with."

BSkyB is the biggest media owner advertiser, spending more than twice as much as second-placed Virgin Media (see table, right). Ashley Stockwell, Virgin Media's managing director of brand and marketing, says it is often assumed that because the company owns both sales house IDS and Virgin Media Television and UKTV channels, it can manipulate opportunities to its advantage. However, since all the businesses are audited, Stockwell reports Virgin has to be "whiter than white".

Exploiting opportunities
He explains: "Even though we own IDS, we conduct our media transactions through our media agency Manning Gottlieb OMD, because we need a considered, joined-up view that should not be biased in any way."

Stockwell adds that the difficult economic sitution is triggering many short-term opportunities caused by cancellations and knee-jerk changes of plan by other advertisers. This means an important part of his role is ensuring Virgin is nimble enough to capitalise on opportunities, while staying true to its overall marketing strategy.

Over at Channel 4, head of network marketing Rufus Radcliffe notes that marketers working in broadcast media have advantages over their counterparts employed in fields such as financial services and fast-moving consumer goods.

One such edge is being able to call on on-screen talent to appear in promos for new programmes. For example, celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall appeared in the humorous trailer for Channel 4's The Great British Food Fight.

Another key element of Radcliffe's job is reaching out to C4's younger demographic using new media. One recent initiative was the Skins Messenger service, developed to enhance the viewing experience of hit series Skins. Viewers watching the E4 show online were able to receive extra information about the action, characters and musical soundtrack via Windows Live or MSN Messenger.

A fundamental part of a marketer's role is understanding what motivates target audiences. Sophie McLeod, head of marketing and promotions at Express Newspapers, says it is "vital" to identify the needs of existing readers and maintain their brand loyalty, as well as establishing what is attractive to new readers, and then running promotional activity to encourage them to buy her titles.

Achieving stand-out is another major preoccupation for media brands.

Tim Pearson, head of marketing for IPC Ignite's NME and Uncut, says: "As a marketer for cutting-edge youth brands, there is a need to remain fresh and creative in a marketplace that is becoming increasingly cluttered.

"When marketing budgets are squeezed, we have to take stock of the situation and look for ways to innovate rather than imitate."

Pearson believes it is important to establish partnerships outside his brands' core platforms, to the benefit of both brand and advertiser. A good example, he says, is IPC Ignite's ongoing relationship with HMV, which plays an important role in the marketing mix for the Shockwaves NME Awards. In turn, NME gains a presence in 240 HMV stores for a six-week period, including window space for two weeks.

Media's marketing directors certainly operate in a fast-changing world. Condé Nast's Faulkner recalls the 2001 launch of Glamour, which was supported by radio, a blockbusting TV campaign, a considerable amount of point-of-sale activity, and giant billboards, which were considered a novelty at the time. As a result, Glamour became number one in the women's lifestyle magazine market almost immediately.

Potential readership
However, if Condé Nast launched Glamour in today's market, Faulkner believes its marketing and media scheduling would have "a far more varied complexion".

She says: "When we launched the UK edition of Wired earlier this year, I counted that we had more than 60 different points of communication targeting our potential readership."

Susan Clark, global marketing director at The Economist, weighs up the state of today's advertising market. She says: "It's not that people don't have any money to spend - they just don't feel confident about releasing the budgets yet."

Media owners and agencies are hoping confidence will return to the market sooner rather than later. In the meantime, life is a balancing act for those in marketing roles at media owners - juggling marketing costs against the need to boost revenue for their outlets at a hugely challenging time in the economic cycle.

However, Faulkner relishes the challenge. She says: "The dual nature of being both a media owner and a client makes the job stimulating, challenging and great fun."

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