ITV executive chairman Michael Grade today (Wednesday) sets out his vision for the future of the broadcaster as he outlines the findings of a strategy review. That vision looks increasingly likely to include the appointment of HHCL founder Rupert Howell as ITV’s new commercial chief – a move that is expected to be confirmed at the end of next week.
Sources claim Howell is meeting Grade at the start of next week with a view to taking on beefed-up managing director role to cover marketing, sales and digital strategy. ITV began a protracted search in May following the resignation of commercial director Ian McCulloch.
Some say combining the sales and marketing functions will allow ITV to better chase audiences, while others argue that ITV would be failing commercial television if it appoints a “showman” over a “sales practitioner”.
As managing director of sales and marketing, Howell would be on the same level as former Sky Networks managing director Dawn Airey, who starts next month as director of global content.
Indeed, Howell, who was first linked with ITV following the resignation of chief executive Charles Allen 12 months ago, may already have his eye on the top job. Grade, parachuted in at the start of this year, has said he will relinquish the “executive” part of his role by 2010, potentially leaving Airey and Howell as heirs apparent.
But one source says: “Howell’s ego won’t wait until 2010 and he will be outmanoeuvred by Airey at every stage.”
Another adds that Airey was brought in on the understanding that the top job would be hers and that faced with any threat she would “respond in traditional Airey style”.
Yet the real criticisms are reserved for Howell’s immediate appointment to the commercial role. One industry source says he is “incredulous” given Howell’s lack of programming, TV or airtime experience.
That, too, was the problem with other “crowd pleasing” frontrunning candidates, claim some observers. What ITV needs, says one, is not a “smart arsed” account man to go “schmoozing” advertisers, but a practitioner able to rip up the TV sales rule book and act like a brand leader, particularly as Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) look to review contract rights renewal (CRR).
The job should have gone to Andy Barnes if he could have been prised away from Channel 4, says another, but it is understood he was not even approached for the job. Headhunter Isobel Bird apparently convinced Grade to ignore the obvious candidates in favour of marketers and agency names.
ITV’s real problem remains that its performance depends on the commercial success of spot advertising on its ITV1 flagship channel. Get that wrong, says another expert, and whatever else happens on the edges will not make a difference.
Yet another former TV executive claims commercial experience is not essential and that a strong leader with the status and savvy Howell brings from his advertising background is better suited to the demands made by the role.
Howell left his job as regional director and president of McCann Erickson Group in April after four years. He is also a former Chime Communications chief executive.
The TV insider claims that Howell’s background will help him marry the sales and marketing functions in what is a vital prerequisite of ITV’s recovery.
He adds: “Rupert is the man who will be able to reconnect the world to TV and TV advertising, because he understands the medium like no other. He also has the poise and polish to do this job much better than any of the other shortlisted clients.”
And as another former acquaintance says: “He’s actually a very commercially astute guy. He’s run his own agency and sold it for a fortune. ITV is a brilliant fit for Rupert. He is very high profile, ebullient and knows the TV industry inside out. He is also incredibly well connected.”