Marketing put to test in leaner ITV

ITV is hunting for a marketing chief after the departure of John Hardie. But the role could be threatened by cost-cutting stakeholders, says Amanda Wilkinson

John Hardie, defender of mass market TV and marketing chief of ITV, is defecting to a global specialist in the multi-channel environment – Walt Disney.

His resignation as ITV’s communications and marketing director has been on the cards ever since it became obvious last year that he would not replace Richard Eyre as chief executive of the network. When the former Procter & Gamble marketer threw his hat in the ring as a contester for the ITV chief executive job, the network’s stakeholders – dominated by Granada and Carlton Communications – were not prepared to retrieve it.

They had other plans for a new look ITV which was finally unveiled in April, and put Stuart Prebble, former chief executive of ONdigital, the loss-making digital terrestrial platform owned by Carlton and Granada, at the helm. ITV’s new structure incorporates three key businesses – the ITV channels; the online business, ITV.com; and ONdigital, which is being rebranded ITV Digital in August.

Hardie says: “The new post involved overseeing an enlarged structure combining all these interests and I never thought I was going to get that position.”

But it seems a bitter pill to swallow for the man who, since Eyre’s departure in January 2000, has defended ITV’s performance as a mass-market proposition to agencies and advertisers in the face of an increasingly multi-channel environment.

News broke of Hardie’s new role at Walt Disney on Thursday – a day after Granada’s results showed it had plunged into the red on the back of a major slump in advertising revenue. ITV’s ad revenue is likely to be 25 per cent lower in June this year compared with June 2000, while July is expected to show a 20 per cent fall on last year. Hardie is to be managing director of branded television in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, the former role of David Hulbert, president of Walt Disney Television International.

Prebble is unlikely to look for someone to take on exactly the same role as Hardie. The position could be limited to a purely marketing function, but it is not clear whether it will include responsibility for all ITV branded products.

Channel 4 director of strategy and development David Brook and Channel 5 director of marketing and communications Jim Hytner have been identified by industry insiders as likely candidates. But whoever gets the job will face a different set of challenges to those which Hardie confronted when he arrived at the network.

Prior to Hardie’s arrival, marketing decisions were made by the now disbanded ITV marketing group – a committee of representatives from the network’s stakeholders. Hardie set up a centralised network promotions unit to avoid duplication and inconsistency among the regional broadcasters when producing trailers.

He also introduced the heart-shaped emblem and “TV from the heart” theme for the channel and a new ITV logo to sit alongside redesigned regional idents. But reactions to the rebranding remain mixed.

One industry insider says: “‘TV from the heart’ is naff and doesn’t mean anything to anybody. ITV is not a soft and cuddly brand. Whoever comes in will have to develop the brand more visually.”

But MindShare TV buying director Andrew Zonfrillo says: “The rebranding was very good – it was what ITV needed.”

Media Planning Group head of broadcast Andrew Canter agrees: “Hardie made ITV more synergistic by changing the logo and making ITV into a brand. Rather than 14 regional broadcasters, ITV became one broadcaster.”

Industry insiders say “horrendous” politics could put candidates off the job, but with consolidation and the possibility of a single ITV company things should be easier.

MediaVest joint managing director Nick Theakstone says: “Hardie was pretty good at the difficult job of collectively marketing ITV with lots of companies trying to get their heads above the parapet.”

But Hardie claims there was little interference from the different ITV companies: “No one ever double-guessed my decisions on promotions, ads and posters; the ITV companies are much better than people give them credit for.”

With Eyre gone, it was Hardie who introduced new targets once it became clear that ITV would not meet its revised target of 38.5 per cent share of the peak-time viewing (between 7pm and 10.30pm) by the end of 2000.

One was to beat BBC1 during peak time using a benchmark of more than 6.4 points. ITV achieved this target for the first quarter of 2001 with a 37.8 per cent peak-time share, ten points ahead of the BBC.

Mars European media director Angus McIntosh says: “Hardie was somebody who demonstrated he was listening to advertisers. I hope Prebble continues to make sure ITV is focused on our needs as well as regulators’ and viewers’ needs.”

But Tom George, managing partner at Zenith, says the targets are irrelevant to advertisers: “The price a lot of advertisers pay is based on the performance of every sector, not just peak.”

The battle to establish ITV as a single brand has already been won. But with ITV’s two main stakeholders, Carlton and Granada, preoccupied with falling advertising revenue and low share prices, it’s likely the new marketing chief will have to fight to ensure the ITV brand continues to get the support it needs. v

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