'Gladiatorial Relationship' At End, ITV Tells Agencies

18 February 2004

Quite why it has taken so long for the UK's dominant commercial broadcaster ITV plc to start building bridges with advertisers and agencies is a mystery only ITV can explain.

However, Charles Allen, chief executive of the newly merged broadcaster, now believes it necessary to lay the foundations of a new accord. “In the past, the relationship between us and advertisers has been a gladiatorial [one],” he acknowledged this week. “What we want to do now is create a different relationship which actually sees us going out and selling the benefits of [television].”

But agencies are wary -- Allen's fine words have the ring of familiarity.

Says Jerry Hill ceo of Initiative Media UK: It’s early days. There’s a very high market expectation that ITV will adopt a more outward-facing approach. To do this externally they need to reorient themselves internally around the new order … and be very clear about what levers they need to really focus on.”

The interface for the 'new order' is Justin Sampson, former managing director of the Radio Advertising Bureau, who joins ITV shortly as head of customer relationship management, with an urgent brief to improve ITV’s client contiguity.

Some agencies see the appointment as a start: "I don’t think we can expect a rapid change. Deals are still being done and life moves on," observes OMD managing partner Mark Palmer. "Having said that, you have to respect and admire the public intention for change and the commitment shown in the form of hiring people like Justin.”

But Steve Hobbs, media director at Carat, hopes for more than a charm offensive. “Audience performance is just as important as advertiser relationships in maintaining share, but if ITV are to fully exploit non-spot revenues such as sponsorship and interactive TV, they must work harder at understanding advertisers’ needs.”

As British ad journal Media Week notes with admirable understatement: "In the past, ITV has been accused of being arrogant about its market position."

Year by year, however, this has been slipping -- marginally but inexorably toward (and soon perhaps below) the 50% market share watershed -- due to the continuing proliferation of new media channels.

As the immortal Doctor Johnson once memorably observed: "Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

Data sourced from: Media Week (UK); additional content by WARC staff