ITV’S INVISIBLE MAN LEAVES THE SHADOWS

John Hardie, ITV’s new marketing and commercial director, has spent his whole career at P&G. With this lack of television experience, can he turn ITV around? Or has he been hired as a sop to critical advertisers? Stephanie Bentley looks into t

Go on, admit it, you hadn’t heard of him either. John Hardie, ITV’s new marketing and commercial director, rises without trace from that notoriously secretive organisation Procter & Gamble to fill one of the most high-profile jobs in the business next month.

Having worked at P&G since graduation, it is perhaps unsurprising that there was no photograph to be had of Hardie when news of his appointment broke, or that ITV felt the need to give out a list of the mystery man’s ex-colleagues to contact for suitable quotes on his character, strengths and personality.

The channel’s newest communicator, who would only answer questions via fax, joins ITV on November 3 from his post at P&G as managing director, cosmetics and toiletries (Europe).

He takes up his new job with no previous experience of working in television and the clock already ticking. Exactly one month ago his new boss, chief executive Richard Eyre, committed ITV to come up with a strategy to satisfy advertisers in 100 days. There will be 66 days left when Hardie arrives.

“John has a huge history of dealing with ITV from the customer side of the table,” says Eyre. “P&G is one of ITV’s longest-standing and biggest customers, and one of its most vociferous critics (see box over). He will give the reassurance that advertisers’ points of view are being dealt with at the highest level.”

With ITV’s share of viewing falling from 38.1 per cent to 33.5 per cent between 1993 and 1996, advertisers have been growing more and more frustrated at the rising costs of reaching the same number of consumers, and have been increasing the pressure for better programming, scheduling and marketing to reverse this ratings decline and reduce inflation.

Only the acquisition of the rights to Formula 1 motor racing have improved ITV’s fortunes.

So is Hardie’s appointment a sop to ITV’s loudest detractors – the client community? Inevitably, yes, to some extent. John Hooper, director-general of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers says: “ITV is at last listening to what its customers want, thank God.”

Hardie himself says: “I wouldn’t harp on too much about my advantage over people from a media background. Clearly, today I think like a client so I might have a tad more empathy with clients. I certainly believe that we need to bring the client more to the centre of our total ITV planning, along with our consumer, the British viewing public.”

There is widespread optimism that Hardie is tough enough – and bright enough – to bring about change and to handle the three great power blocks that own ITV and their respective sales houses.

Hardie was obviously something of a golden boy at P&G. Having risen to the post of managing director, he was tipped to move seamlessly to the next level – regional vice-president.

Born in Glasgow and educated at a local comprehensive, he joined P&G in 1983 after graduating in English and Philosophy from Glasgow University. He worked as a brand manager on various P&G products, including Fairy Liquid, and became associate advertising manager in 1989. In 1991, he was appointed UK marketing director for Max Factor, including Cover Girl, and then global category manager for Oil of Ulay Cosmetics.

In 1994 he became P&G Europe’s youngest general manager when he was put in charge of the German-based company Ellen Betrix, and returned to the UK in 1996 to take up his most recent post as managing director of cosmetics and toiletries (Europe).

Now at the ripe old age of 35 he has chosen to cash in his P&G chips and switch from selling fast-moving consumer goods to selling a culture – television.

Procter-type managers are famed for their ability to solve things in a linear, systematic way, with an almost religious dependence on research. So is Hardie joining ITV from a straitjacketed environment of formulaic minds, where creative ideas seldom survive? And will he be prepared for the entrepreneurial ways and much messier processes of ITV?

Gary Haigh, marketing director at Pizza Hut UK, who worked for Hardie at P&G in the late Eighties, says: “He’s very quick. He’s very good at constructing arguments based on data.” But he stresses his “cultured” side and his enthusiasm for books, film and music. He says Hardie will succeed at ITV: “If you understand the possibilities of your product and the dynamics of your audience you can make that sort of cultural transition. It comes down to you as an individual.”

Hardie says his 14 years at P&G have given him an enduring belief in the power of TV advertising, and the experience and practical knowledge of how to build brands, “particularly when it’s a wide range of different products under one brand name”.

The fact that Hardie comes from an aggressive, macho and very competitive business is also a vital element if he is to deal with the oligopoly of ITV, dominated by the three big baronies of Granada, Carlton and United News & Media. He must address the problem of ITV acting as disparate contractors, both to the trade and to the consumer.

With Eyre’s appointment as chief executive the organisation has woken up to the fact that increasing competition from other channels means it must put in place a more streamlined, focused structure with more power at the centre, to keep a lid on the self-defeating rivalries and jealousies of the three companies.

One media buyer says: “ITV has taken a long time to realise that it is not the only game in town, especially in TV media. It is no longer about Carlton versus Laser, it is about positioning ITV as distinct to any other media operation, rather than just a lump of TV and an expensive one at that.”

Previously marketing decisions have been made by a committee – the ITV marketing group – chaired by Clive Jones, chief executive of Carlton TV with Jerry Hill, chief executive of sales house TSMS, as his deputy. It was this group which appointed M&C Saatchi and media buyer Motive and also approved the ITV branding campaign “Britain’s most popular button”.

The marketing group has now been scrapped, along with the network’s 15-strong broadcast scheduling board. If new forums are subsequently established in their place, they will be smaller and will be led by Hardie and Eyre’s new programme director, David Liddiment.

Mick Desmond, chief executive of ITV sales house Laser, bites the bullet and admits the previous marketing operation did not work as well as it should have. “We have had our day jobs running the sales houses, and then a bit of part-time trouble-shooting with marketing,” he says.

Mark Cranmer, managing director of media buying agency Motive, says the virtues of ITV have been under-appreciated by viewers and the trade audience. He says: “ITV is still the single most powerful medium. Imagine if it was not available any more – we’d be distraught.”

Eyre says: “Because of history ITV shareholders have played a very big role in the company. We are moving from that situation to another. But we have got to take them with us.

“I am absolutely confident there has been a transfer of power to the centre. Initiative must be with John Hardie, but not so that shareholders are kept in the dark.”

Like a dose of medicine, the ITV companies may not always like it but they know they must take it.

But Mike Gull, controller of sales and marketing at GMTV, says ominously: “John may need Richard Eyre’s support in ensuring that the old committee system doesn’t return to restrict his marketing talents.”

Yet if there is a consensus within the Network Centre that Hardie must take charge of a centrally-directed marketing operation, the crucial issue of how his role will dovetail with existing marketers within the sales houses, who push their own regions, is less clear.

One insider says: “At that level there is utter confusion. What’s the role of a marketing director outside the Network Centre? Will that only serve to confuse any progress that the centre is trying to make?”

In the past, ITV marketing strategy has been muddled and inconsistent. In the complex web of ITV and its brands, (such as Carlton, Granada, or even programme brands such as Blind Date or The Bill) what takes precedence and where? For example, on-screen promotions for certain programmes are made locally, so a trailer for a drama such as “Reckless” looks different in Scotland than it does in the West Country.

Eyre says: “This is a terribly important issue that John will have to grapple with.” He admits the companies have different agendas, with a breadth of interests wider than ITV.

But he adds: “We hope they will pull in the same direction. John Hardie is the lead puller.”

Hardie says: “All I know is, we will work together and focus our energies externally on outsmarting the competition, not each other.”

One industry source suggests the ITV companies must take on a different positioning, with the ITV brand taking more of the credit instead of individual programmes. He suggests brands such as Granada should be seen as “proud regional providers” of ITV, with an unavoidably lower role in the arrangement.

Meanwhile Eyre sees Hardie and his team as independent intermediaries, unthreatening to both advertisers on one side and sales houses on the other.

He says: “Our role is not to sell airtime or negotiate rates. We are separating the product from the negotiation, where the process becomes adversarial. It doesn’t create the right kind of environment for discussions about the changes the customer wants us to make.”

Hardie says: “Clients will assess for themselves the merits of our efforts to build ITV audience share. We need a straight, open and mature dialogue to be established as an ongoing process.”

The advertisers, along with the ITV companies, will be making a similar judgement on Hardie himself – ITV’s first marketing messiah.

ITV – in the eyes of P&G

P&G has repeatedly criticised ITV. Recent attacks include a speech from Paul Polman, vice-president of P&G UK, last March (MW March 14), in which he called for more minutage to combat airtime inflation. He also challenged advertisers to “give up this misleading and inflationary trading mechanism” of station average price.

His words echoed sentiments voiced by P&G media manager Bernard Balderstone at the TV 97 conference in Monte Carlo, who attacked SAP for fuelling inflation and being ineffective.

When asked his concerns about ITV as a client, new marketing director Hardie says: “I need cost-effective TV advertising that reaches a very large audience all year long. Cost is obviously a concern, but the threat to advertising-financed TV posed by satellite, pay-per-view and the more ratings-focused BBC is frankly greater.”

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