AGENDA: Is ITV’s marketing hitting the right buttons? One year after ITV’s management team set out to implement a coherent strategy to improve branding and programming, Harriet Marsh reviews its progress and finds out if the broadcaster is

It is now a year since Richard Eyre, chief executive of ITV, confirmed the appointment of John Hardie to the newly created role of marketing and commercial director. A marketing veteran from Procter & Gamble, with the rank of managing director, cosmetics and toiletries, Hardie’s appointment completed ITV’s top management triumvirate.

It is now a year since Richard Eyre, chief executive of ITV,

confirmed the appointment of John Hardie to the newly created role of

marketing and commercial director. A marketing veteran from Procter &

Gamble, with the rank of managing director, cosmetics and toiletries,

Hardie’s appointment completed ITV’s top management triumvirate.



The trio were quickly christened the ITV ’dream team’: Eyre, the

ambassador; David Liddiment, the programming guru; and Hardie, the fmcg

marketer, bringing with him some much needed client focus.



But after 14 years at P&G, working in areas such as laundry products and

cosmetics, Hardie admits ITV was something of a culture shock: ’There

were two significant differences: first, the shareholder structure was

very different to a line management structure, and second, how much of

the business was conducted on a public platform.



’I’ve never had to justify my marketing strategy to 400 people

before.



At Procters you just live and die by the results.’



Yet, one year down the line, Hardie knows that like P&G, it is results

by which ITV will ultimately be judged.



When he joined the network last November, Hardie inherited a brand in

disarray. Audiences were falling, airtime inflation rising and ITV was

facing increased competition and a vocal band of dissatisfied

customers.



Valuable experience



In the past 12 months Hardie, now a familiar name in the industry, has

clearly become a vital member of ITV’s management team as they set out

to woo advertisers and media agencies.



In this he has clearly been helped by his background: ’Because Hardie

talks to advertisers as a former advertiser, in a language they can

understand, he automatically gets a bit of a leg-up over his

predecessors at the ITV Network Centre,’ says Russell Boyman, managing

partner at Mediapolis.



In a series of slick presentations - the initial one to mark Eyre’s

first 100 days, the most recent, ITV 99, to launch ITV’s new branding -

Hardie, alongside Eyre and Liddiment, has impressed the marketing

community by admitting past mistakes and laying out a strategy for

future improvements.



Client-conscious



’For the first time ever, as far as I can remember, ITV has demonstrated

a commitment to, and understanding of, its customers’ needs,’ says John

Blakemore, advertising director at SmithKline Beecham.



’After years of being told that we didn’t know what we were talking

about, a group of people stood up and said to us, ’yes, you’re right and

this is what we’re going to do about it’.’



Hardie has also brought a new professionalism and coherence to ITV’s

marketing strategy.



Observers cite the disbanding of the Marketing Committee as one example

of this, although Hardie was actually pre-empted in this when, at his

first meeting with the committee, Clive Jones, chief executive of

Carlton Television, announced the dissolution of the committee as the

first item on the agenda.



What Hardie can take credit for is the creation of the new central

promotions unit. Formerly, promotions - in the form of on-air trailers -

were organised region by region, leading to considerable inconsistency

in interpretation. The first airing of Reckless, the recently repeated

drama series starring Robson Green, was marketed as a medical drama in

one region, a comedy in another and a sexy drama in a third.



Now, ITV’s huge promotional muscle - equal in terms of ITV airtime to

the combined weight of BT, P&G and Unilever - is managed centrally.



Hardie’s four-strong marketing team write creative briefs for all the

on-air promotions, helped by input from the programme makers and

commissioners.



Trailers are produced centrally by the 20-strong promotions team and the

brief is then passed on to advertising agency HHCL & Partners, which

produces all off-air promotions.



Much of the marketing positions ITV programmes as ’event’ television,

with press advertising similar to that which is used to promote major

Hollywood blockbusters.



Programme promotion



While ITV’s last ad campaign used corporate image advertising to promote

the network as ’Britain’s favourite button’, the focus is now on

promoting peak-time programmes both on-air, in the national press and on

posters.



Support for its recently announced autumn schedule will cost around half

of the network’s pounds 10m annual marketing budget.



Furthermore, following the launch of ITV’s new heart motif, which

positions the station with the strapline ’TV from the heart’, Hardie has

increased the presence of the ITV brand on screen.



Hardie admits to being pleased with what has been achieved and claims

the recent national press advertising behind a revamp of The Bill has

boosted audience share. ’We have improved the programme and supported it

with advertising. It is a classic case of new product improvement,’ he

says. He is similarly upbeat about the interest generated in the

documentary Fat, and new drama series Liverpool 1.



’What he has done is bring a discipline to ITV’s marketing strategy,

which comes from working with a large, successful fmcg marketing

organisation,’ says Blakemore.



This classical marketing training seems to have been instrumental in ITV

management’s decision to target a 38% audience share this year, to be

followed by 39% next year and 40% in 2000.



Target practice



Observers, almost universally, describe this as a brave move. Hardie

himself admits that when they announced these targets they didn’t know

how they would achieve them. ’It is like holding a gun to your head and

saying if I don’t achieve this, I’ll pull the trigger,’ he says.



’At that time we didn’t have approval for further investments in ITV

schedules. We had in mind that we wanted to move News at Ten but knew it

would be some time before we could even make an application, and weren’t

sure we would be able to make the changes we have to the marketing

strategy.’



So why did they do it? Hardie suggests that it is a policy learnt at his

former company: ’P&G sets high targets and then works out how to achieve

those targets,’ he says. ’That is why brands such as Pantene, Sunny

Delight and Pringles are such success stories.’



In this case, however, the prediction looks likely to haunt ITV. The

network will have to increase its share of viewing dramatically in the

final quarter of 1998 if it is to achieve 38% this year.



Next year’s target will be even harder, especially as a number of

commentators suggest that ITV has been helped in 1998 by the record

viewing figures for its World Cup matches.



Little surprise, then, that Eyre’s answer when he was asked recently if

ITV would actually make its targets if it wasn’t able to move News at

Ten, was an uncharacteristically downbeat ’no’.



The fact is that after a year in which the groundswell of support has

swung considerably back in ITV’s favour, there is a feeling that the

honeymoon is now over.



Advertisers remain unhappy about ITV’s policy of leaving gaps in its

schedule to try to prevent rivals scheduling against it.



’In an ideal world they would commit to some kind of core schedule and

then allow advertisers to follow those programmes as they move,’ says

Boyman.



Great expectations



After a year’s grace while the team bedded in, advertisers are now

looking for results. Any kind of excuse, such as not being able to move

News at Ten, will have little sway with advertisers and agencies if ITV

falls short of its self-imposed targets.



’To a large degree, the professional manner in which the ITV team has

set out to tackle the marketing of ITV has been one of the highlights of

the year,’ says Steve Williams, head of TV at BMP Optimum.



’But we have to be careful not to let ITV’s new slick approach

overshadow the performance issues.’



He is not alone in this view. ’There are some interesting parallels

between ITV, Tony Blair and Glenn Hoddle,’ says Boyman.



’In the past year all three have told us ’give us a chance and its going

to get better’. For Hoddle time has now run out, Blair is heading that

way, and time will begin to run out for ITV next year.’



Hardie is clearly aware that the clock is ticking, but he remains

optimistic. ’I think we’ve still got a run at it,’ he says. ’We’ll take

the flak and see how close the numbers are. But for me the real question

is ’Are we moving ahead as a network?’. When we inherited it, it was

declining by 6% a year. Even if we miss by a tad, we’ll do a lot better

than our trend.



’I don’t think that will carry much weight with advertisers. But if you

suffer a setback you regroup and see what you can do. We will keep

ourselves committed to the targets we have set ourselves.’



MEDIA OBSERVERS RATE ITV’S PROGRESS OVER THE PAST YEAR



STEF CLARKE - Manager media strategy and comms at Halifax



RELATIONSHIP WITH ADVERTISERS: Hardie started as a relative unknown,

whereas he is now very well known and has shown himself to be quite

willing to talk to advertisers. 8/10



BRANDING: This has only just started so the jury is still out. Overall

it is good they’re looking to brand ITV separately but it is too early

to tell if it will work. 5/10



PROGRAMMING: Encouraging signs, but the audience delivery is the proof

of the pudding. The autumn will be crunch time. 7/10



OVERALL PERFORMANCE: Overall ITV has done well to date but I will expect

more in the future. 6/10



NICK THEAKSTONE - Head of TV at MediaVest



RELATIONSHIP WITH ADVERTISERS: Hardie has made the team more

approachable: he makes himself available and is not afraid of sitting

round the table with clients. 8/10



BRANDING: A key area, which has been confusing in the past but hopefully

Hardie’s current strategy will make it clearer. 7/10



PROGRAMMING: ITV has good programming in the pipeline, although

advertisers need to know when it is going out. They need to make moving

the news a priority, and to get around the opposition from the

government. 7/10



OVERALL PERFORMANCE: ITV set itself a tough target of 38% by the end of

the year. I don’t think it is going to make it. 6/10



CHRIS BOOTHBY - Broadcast director at BBJ Media Services



RELATIONSHIP WITH ADVERTISERS: Some improvements, albeit from a low

base, but still a slight tendency to ’talk at’ rather than ’listen to’

the advertisers’. 6/10



BRANDING: Definitely more coherent strategy and brand identity. Much

improved. 8/10



PROGRAMMING: Positive developments, but audiences were helped by the

World Cup. It will be difficult to maintain momentum with increased

competition next year. The News at Ten issue must not become an excuse

for under-performance. 7/10



OVERALL PERFORMANCE: Eyre, Liddiment and Hardie have given Network

Centre a new authority, enabling ITV to be presented as a single brand.

A good start but the real test is still to come. 7/10



RUSSELL BOYMAN - Managing partner at Mediapolis



RELATIONSHIP WITH ADVERTISERS: Hardie has made ITV more accessible by

talking to marketers in their language. Setting targets was brave, but

showed ITV was serious. 8/10



BRANDING: The heart motif fits ITV quite well, but on screen looks

derivative of BBC2. The ad campaign has been smothered by the SkyDigital

launch. 7/10



PROGRAMMING: The first year has been a mixed bag, with some success in

the second quarter but a disappointing start to the autumn season.

6/10



OVERALL PERFORMANCE: A decent start, but the initial goodwill will start

to evaporate. ITV’s customers will be looking for results in the year to

come. 7/10.



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