Manchester sets regional pace

Agencies and media owners are expanding out of London, in an effort to extract revenues from companies which operate from outside the capital. Manchester has become a particular focus of attention.

The Manchester media scene has been the source of some frenzied activity in the past month, indicating that London agencies and media owners are looking with new seriousness at the revenues available from advertisers based outside London.

Firstly Channel 4 appointed Optimedia’s highly respected former broadcast director, Bob Mullins, as its regional sales director. This surprised a number of capital-centric media people, who snootily assumed Mullins would prefer a senior job in a London agency.

Then last week Laser Sales announced its intention of increasing its senior regional sales staff by poaching David Croft, Channel 4’s client sales manager, to become its first regional sales director.

As media owners increase their efforts to target regional clients, media agencies are doing the same. The Media Business Group announced this week that it is to back the three former CIA Media Solutions senior managers, Paul Wheeler, Declan McKenna and Andrew Bartholomew (MW May 17), in their new media agency breakaway.

In backing a breakaway, the Media Business is following the pattern of The Media Centre last year which bought into a breakaway from TMD Carat (Manchester) to set up The Media Centre Manchester (MW March 24 1995).

London agencies moving to Manchester is nothing new. They have been there since the Seventies, and as the economy looks as if it’s improving, and expansion is on the mind of managing directors, it is logical for them to be heading up the M6, cheque book in hand.

In the case of The Media Business, it was a desire to undertake expansion that led the agency to float publicly last year. The need to expand now that it has floated has led it to back the Media Solutions trio. It is rumoured that it was not the only London media operation that wanted to back them, so it is unlikely to be the last new operation we see open in Manchester.

What The Media Business has achieved, like The Media Centre before it, is a start-up that already has plenty of local experience.

Manchester agencies handle the second largest media billing in the UK after London – over 300m.

The region’s strength has been based on a large number of retail and direct mail clients whose accounts are highly work-intensive for their agencies. Clients like General Universal Stores, Airtours, Iceland and Norweb use Manchester agencies because they feel more comfortable with an agency that is close to the home office.

“As the Manchester market has matured, and the level of service we can give has improved, agencies are now looking for their next stage of growth to come from branded advertisers,” says Ray Sale, chief executive of CIA Media Solutions Manchester.

If 300m of media is being bought out of Manchester, then it follows that media owners too should be well represented in the North. The three main ITV stations and Channel 4 have all got Manchester offices, as have all of the national press and the main poster companies.

Capital Radio and GWR have their own sales offices in Manchester, as do Condé Nast, IPC and NatMags, although radio groups and magazines often make use of sales representation agencies.

There are three main Manchester regional sales houses: Media Sales Network, which represents radio group CLT’s Talk Radio and Atlantic 252 and Gruner & Jahr’s portfolio of magazines; Medialink, which handles Virgin Radio and the Radio Times as well Associated Newspapers’ sales effort in Scotland; and Sales & Media Services, which sells out of Manchester for a number of regional newspaper groups, Time, and Top Gear magazines.

“It is change in media itself that has led to change in media sales in Manchester,” says Sale. “As media ownership has become concentrated in fewer hands, the media owners have tended to set up their own Manchester offices.”

On the one hand concentration of ownership has led to more Manchester subsidiaries but extra media has had a similar effect. More TV stations, more magazines and more radio stations fighting for advertisers’ money is leading media owners to boost their regional sales to replace lost national business.

“With more and more TV channels, we are coming under pressure in some of our off-peak and shoulder-peak airtime,” says Phil France, managing director of Laser Sales. “Because of that, there are opportunities we have to look for among regional advertisers.”

It is no secret that ITV as a whole has suffered from a drop in advertising by the packaged goods sector this year – the mainstay of daytime airtime. “It’s no reflection on our existing sales staff, it’s about more emphasis on regional advertisers,” says France.

Manchester was chosen because Laser’s ability to target regional advertisers in London is much less formidable due to the high cost of advertising in the capital and LWT’s lack of weekday airtime.

And, as France puts it: “Manchester is just where regional advertising has ended up.”

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