Raymond Snoddy on media: Doing an Airey: a beginner's guide

A while ago there was a splash of publicity about a survey suggesting that marketing directors' average tenure in a role was about 12 months - a life span similar to that of Premiership football managers.

If it weren't an urban myth propagated by head-hunters with an interest in deploying a piece of self-serving research, this would be a serious issue. It would mean that companies were reacting to an intense competitive environment by poaching 'marketing magic' from their rivals at any price, and at the expense of in-house talent. There may indeed be a few magicians with powerful spells, but the most likely outcome of this is a considerable waste of resources, internal disruption and disillusion.

Marketing is a model of stability and maturity compared with the executive merry-go-round in British broadcasting. In fact, the phrase 'doing an Airey' should be added to English dictionaries to describe recent events. As with all neologisms, we must be precise with our terms.

Mark Thompson was naughty when he allowed himself to be persuaded by Michael Grade, then chairman of the BBC, to leave Channel 4 to become BBC director-general, but as he had been at C4 for more than two years, we can accept this as being within the realms of normal business.

However, the movements of Jay Hunt, who was director of programmes at Five for only a few months before having her head turned by the offer of the BBC One controller's post, would certainly meet the criteria, were it not for the fact that you cannot apply such terms retrospectively. We must not forget that when Hunt did her embarrassing runner, Dawn Airey was still considered a loyal employee of ITV, and one who was fully engaged in the enormous task of trying to secure the survival of a beleaguered business.

The exact criteria by which the term 'doing an Airey' can be recognised begin to emerge.

Obviously, you have to accept a job offer from a direct rival within considerably less than 12 months of securing the first post, potentially carrying commercially sensitive information in your head.

Money, too, must play an important part in the decision. Prospective employers should have offered enough of a hike in salary to lure a candidate away from their contract. If well-paid executives suddenly throw in their jobs to become social workers or Church of England vicars, you may feel like rolling your eyes, but that is really all you can do. In either set of circumstances, observers could perceive an element of ingratitude.

In an ideal world, executives approached a few months after starting a big and challenging job should say that they do not feel free to consider a move at the moment. In the real world, that is not going to happen. Therefore, responsibility falls heaviest on those attempting to do the poaching.

Five and its owner RTL were the victims of BBC poaching over Jay Hunt. Now Five and RTL have performed a similar manoeuvre on ITV and Michael Grade, with unfortunate consequences for everyone concerned.

Grade has lost a valued executive and would be well within his rights to insist that Airey does not join Five until next May, so that the channel does not benefit from the appointment for up to a year. Meanwhile, dispossessed chief executive Jane Lighting is on six months' gardening leave, and colleague Lisa Opie, the channel's former managing director of content, has resigned after 18 months in-post, and will also serve six months in the garden.

So the upshot of this approach is disruption, expense and a few very well-tended gardens. It all adds up to a funny way to run a television channel.

- Raymond Snoddy is a media journalist and presenter of BBC Television's Newswatch


- Between 1985 and 1993, Airey progressed from management trainee at ITV Central to ITV's controller of children's and daytime programmes.

- In 1994, she became controller of arts and entertainment at Channel 4.

- Airey joined Five as director of programmes in 1996, and became chief executive in 2000.

- In 2003, she joined Sky as managing director, becoming managing director, channels and services, in 2006, but announced her departure, to start-up Iostar, later that year.

- Airey left Iostar after eight days in 2007, citing a breach of contract over funding. She returned to ITV as managing director of global content.

- After eight months, she left ITV, just as the broadcaster's £4m fine over TV phone-ins was announced. She returned to Five as chair and chief executive in 2008.


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now


Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message
Lynx unleashes £9m 'Peace invasion' campaign
Social Brands 100 Youth: Pizza Hut most social youth brand in UK
Cheryl Cole is wild and arresting in new L'Oreal work
Morrisons told not to show alcohol ads during YouTube nursery rhymes
O2 head of brand Shadi Halliwell departs after 23 years at company in restructure
Tesco hit by further sales decline as it turns to digital Clubcard and social network
Branding guru Wally Olins dies aged 83
Duracell short film captures epic Transatlantic voyage
Ash runs Tinder experiment to show smokers are less desirable to opposite sex
British Airways teams up with Gerry Cottle Jnr for summer of rooftop film screenings
Arklu says 'girls can be superheroes too' with doll design competition
Coke enters squash market with Oasis Mighty Drops
Virgin Galactic signs up Land Rover as space flight sponsor
Motorola marketer Andrew Morley departs as Google gears up for sale to Lenovo
US Airways apologises after tweeting obscene image at a customer
Mumsnet admits users' emails and passwords accessed via Heartbleed bug