Thinkbox: A year of unfulfilled promises

It is a year since television marketing body Thinkbox launched amid a fanfare of promises to promote the medium as a whole to advertisers, at a time when some were questioning its ability to deliver in a fragmented media landscape.

While industry observers believed the body was long overdue, many wondered if the eight commercial TV companies could work together, even though branding consultancy The Ingram Partnership (now Ingram) was appointed as its virtual administrator. Observers felt Thinkbox should have been set up as a legal entity, with a structure like the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) and Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).

A first burst of activity boosted awareness of the body, culminating in a well-received event, Thinkbox Experience, last summer. But since then, media buyers and clients have criticised the body for losing its head of steam. One broadcast executive says: “Since the summer there has been a dearth of communication from Thinkbox. It has lost momentum when it should have been building on early successes.”

The focus has been on the revolving door that has seen board members Mark Howe, Mark Wood and, most recently, Justin Sampson quit after leaving their respective employers ids, Sky Media and ITV. Ingram’s Elizabeth Kesses, marketing director of Thinkbox, states: “The turnover has shown it to be stronger than the people who come and go.”

Yet so many changes can break an organisation’s backbone. A broadcast insider says: “Thinkbox has lost its way.”

MindShare broadcast buying director Andy Zonfrilllo believes the body must do more. He says: “A year on and it is not high profile enough.”

In November, Thinkbox announced it was to search for a chief executive. Names in the frame include former Clear Channel UK chief executive Stevie Spring and Wood. Despite an estimated salary of &£150,000-plus, at least one potential candidate says the marketing budget, currently at &£3m, is not big enough.

New chairman and Channel 4 sales director Andy Barnes is leading the search, assisted by headhunters. Kesses says recruitment consultants are scouring the industry and beyond. “Having someone outside TV will bring consumer understanding,” she asserts. Kesses disagrees with the notion of lost momentum. Focus has been on “grassroots initiatives” targeting clients and planners. Initiatives will be announced “within months” to change current perceptions, she adds.

Procter & Gamble associate director of UK media Bernard Balderston believes change is needed. He observes: “Thinkbox made a good start so I’m surprised it hasn’t pushed on.” Ultimately, he believes, it will be impossible for the body to be run “part time” by sales directors already holding full-time jobs. He says Thinkbox should look to other media bureaux, such as the RAB, for inspiration.

RAB and IAB have done consistently good jobs at providing people with information, says Kesses. She counters Thinkbox could and should be different: “Where Thinkbox can have the edge is in the area of inspiration.”

Barnes says lessons have been learned and all eyes must be on the future. “We are committed to showing that television is a fantastic medium that can deliver massively in many different ways,” he says. “Critics should watch this space.”

With a chief executive to appoint, and doubters to prove wrong, all eyes will indeed be scrutinising Thinkbox.

Catherine Turner

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