ITV’s post-restructural technique

After last year’s losses, ITV is taking steps to regain lost ground and win advertiser support.

SBHD: After last year’s losses, ITV is taking steps to regain lost ground and win advertiser support.

It is a little over four years since ITV last invested in a proper, co-ordinated marketing initiative. In this time, franchises have been won and lost, sales teams dismantled, re-aligned and dismantled again and ITV companies have merged.

Today, ITV sales chiefs readily admit they have taken their eye off the ball. Last year’s sales house restructuring resulted in confusion in the market and lost ITV ú30m in revenue, according to one recent estimate. Channel 4 was the major beneficiary – ú12m the better, if this same source is to be believed.

But according to ITV sales bosses, the calm after the storm has arrived. The successes of ITV Network Centre which, earlier this month, published its first full year’s review and trumpeted its achievements in strengthening ITV’s network schedule, are increasingly being acknowledged (MW March 10). Finally, the Network claims, it can return to the real business of selling. But have things changed?

Advertisers maintain there are still concerns to be addressed: media inflation, creeping concentration of power and the need for more competition. ITV sales chiefs insist they are getting their houses in order, that all too often the ills of all TV (or indeed of their competitors) are visited upon ITV alone, and that ITV offers not just the largest audience, but also the best value.

The price versus value debate is nothing new. But ITV is now trying to regain the ground it lost to Channel 4 and satellite TV while preoccupied with restructuring. Laser chief executive Mick Desmond’s presentation on the quality and loyalty of ITV peaktime audiences at the TV95 conference was one example of this. But other initiatives will follow.

For a start, a national poster campaign is breaking this week featuring ITV peaktime ratings successes, such as Sunday night drama Band of Gold. Eight executions will appear between March and May, and again between September and November, with the strapline: “ITV: The Best Break a Brand Can Get”. “They were designed to raise the debate between advertiser and agency over placement of ads within peaktime programmes,” Carlton UK Sales managing director Martin Bowley explains.

The first posters will be followed by an on-air promotional drive to back the message. The value of the promotional airtime to be dedicated to this over the next year is ú200m at current prices.

There will be a series of client seminars, including “How TV works” and “How to get more for your money”. A presentation in May will detail how advertisers can use ITV’s latest sponsorship research data (MW March 17). And ITV Network Centre will repeat its preview of network highlights for the year ahead at The Savoy on October 5 for advertisers and agencies.

“My great hope is we start talking about advertising again, not just media,” Bowley adds. So is the message getting through? “No,” he concedes, “or at least only in patches.”

In the light of advertiser disappointment voiced at the lack of discussion of certain issues at TV95, ITV’s spring 1995 marketing offensive seems long overdue. Time will tell if it has the desired effect. But the signs are that it is welcome.

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