Claire Beale on Advertising

Michael Grade was advertisers' choice to lead an ITV revival
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The Independent Online

It was class A through the veins of the ad community; what a story. Last week's news that Michael Grade was returning home to ITV got the ad industry seriously buzzing. As a broadcaster who has always had a winning way with the advertising fraternity, Grade, below, was immediately hailed as ITV's saviour.

But now that we've all got over the shock, what does the ad industry really make of Grade's shock move? After all, ITV has been adland's favourite whipping boy all year. And why not? After years of monopolistic arrogance, aggression and a shockingly flabby approach to selling its airtime, ITV's cracks (rock-bottom audiences, management shambles) have been an all-party invitation to exact revenge by the ad community.

All those legendary overpaid, underskilled sales teams who followed up their bully-boy negotiations with months spent on the corporate golf course might have gone, but memories are long and the revenge dish is nicely chilled.

But much as adland has enjoyed seeing ITV on its knees, there's absolutely no doubt that advertisers need a strong ITV delivering mass audiences. With Grade, ITV has given advertisers the sort of chief they were demanding and has soundly thumbed its nose at its critics. Here is a man ingrained in UK television's golden years, and a man much loved and admired by many advertisers and agencies -- which you certainly could never say about Charles Allen.

Of course, ultimately the broadcaster will be judged on its ability to deliver advertisers 10 or 15 million viewers with its flagship programmes. But in truth, if you ask TV buyers, there's already a sense that ITV is turning the corner; its programming strategy for the next six to 12 months has had a cautious thumbs-up from the advertising community and buyers are being more encouraging.

The stage is nicely set for revival and not for the first time in his career, it seems Michael Grade has displayed a beautiful sense of timing.

WITH ITV on a high for the moment, over at Sky there is also a new sense of ambition. The broadcaster has just handed WCRS its mighty £75m ad account and is gearing up for a new marketing offensive.

It's another story that has had adland's chattering classes chattering. When the pitch was first announced it was widely assumed that it would be a shoe-in for WPP's Grey London. WPP's chief, Sir Martin Sorrell, never a man to let a client relationship slip if he can help it, is a pal of the Murdochs. And although Sky's incumbent agency, the WPP-owned United, had failed miserably to service the business, it seemed certain that Sorrell would be able to keep the Sky account in the WPP fold.

Clearly something went wrong. Apparently, Grey did a great pitch. Apparently, Sky really liked Grey's CEO, the feistily impressive Tamara Ingram. Apparently, the approach by Grey's creative director, Dave Alberts, met with real approval. But WCRS triumphed.

Maybe the fact that everyone presupposed it was in the bag for Grey really counted against them. Maybe Sky's marketing team wanted to signal their independence of thought. Either way, WCRS was better on the day and emerged triumphant after what one Sky insider described as a "superb" pitch underpinned by a great, standout creative idea.

Sky will need it. Competition is firing from all corners. With Virgin Media launching early next year, and with early signs of a rejuvenated ITV, Sky needs to make its whopping ad budget work harder. It's never been a client known for brilliant ads; it seems that's now an ambition for 2007. And for WCRS it's a real boost. The agency's already had a successful new business year but after losing out to Fallon and Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/ Y&R on the prestigious BBC business, Sky must be a highly satisfactory end to the year. And as Robin Wight - a man whose career has by any measure been a successful one - says, "it's the biggest account I've won in 40 years". I suspect Mr Wight has rather less to do with the win than WCRS's CEO, Debbie Klein, and its creative director, Leon Jaume, but the agency is clearly on a well-deserved high.

Now all they have to do is some great ads. But as Sky's advertising portfolio will testify, that's going to be quite some challenge.

WITH ALL this audience fragmentation that everyone bangs on about (and, boy, is it keeping many a strategist in healthy employ) you'd think the poster industry would be sitting pretty as "the last great broadcast medium".

After all, we might be spending our evenings surfing the web, zapping between hundreds of TV channels, flicking through the digital radio dial, but if you're stuck in a traffic jam on the A4, then there's no escaping the monstrous poster sites that punctuate the roadside.

And for creatives, the huge canvas of the 48-sheet or 96-sheet has meant that posters are a tempting medium for ad agencies keen to polish their creative credentials. So it seems surprising that the outdoor industry isn't doing rather better than its latest ad revenue figures would suggest.

True, the third-quarter increase of 4.4 per cent is a significant improvement on the 0.6 per cent growth the previous quarter, but the industry is in a state of some disarray and across-the-year growth looks set to be distinctly modest.

With some of the major poster companies undergoing seismic upheaval this year, the industry as a whole has clearly lost momentum. Maiden Outdoor was acquired by Titan back at the start of the year and then the parent company of Clear Channel, which had already suffered a very undignified management clear-out, was recently sold to a private equity consortium.

The good news for the poster industry is that it is set to benefit even more from all those advertisers now being squeezed off television because they are in sensitive product categories such as food or booze. Drinks companies have already boosted their investment in the outdoor sector, up by 20 per cent in the third quarter.

But the new chairman of the Outdoor Advertising Association, the quietly professional Jeremy Male, chief executive of Viacom, has much work to do to drive home the real role of posters in this digitally obsessed world. The OAA is not the marketing force it once was, but as the revenue figures suggest, the need for a central marketing strategy is more acute than ever.

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