Twelve months can be a very long time in the media. And, for some in the Scottish media marketplace, the past 12 months will have felt a lot longer than most. The acquisition of the Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times by Newsquest was only the first of several major developments to hit the Scottish media market over the last year. New magazine launches, an increasingly competitive radio sector (added to by the awarding of a new Glasgow FM analogue licence), the closure of Faulds and its media subsidiary and, over and above all, the impending changes in UK media ownership laws with the Communications Bill will have been cause for more than a few sleepless nights north of the border.
And so it was, in the comfortable surroundings of Edinburgh’s Malmaison Hotel, that the final Media Drum lunch of 2003, again sponsored by News International (Scotland) invited several representatives of Scotland’s media fraternity to take a relaxed look back at an eventful year in Scottish media, as well as a look at the year that lies ahead.
Present were Keith Crane of Crane Communications, Gill Eatwell of Spirit Media Scotland, Morven Gow of The Media Shop and Elaine Ward-Fincham of News International.
In terms of media developments over the last 12 months, the stories haven’t come any bigger than the merger of Carlton and Granada Television.
Though both companies are based south of the border, the merger will have strong implications for any agency and advertiser looking for a national ITV ad campaign. Currently, though, the ITV situation seems to be creating mostly problems.
“I actually think it’s a bit of a mess, to be quite honest,” remarked Eatwell. “To try and find somebody in either Carlton or Granada who talks about it and makes proper sense is impossible. They’ve got no idea. Once the sales director and regional sales directors are in place the teams will follow but it’s all weeks and weeks away. They’ve actually been told not to give information to agencies. It’s all a bit of a mess I think.”
The merger has created several discussion points, but for the Scottish media the main one has been the future of Scottish-Media-Group-owned Scottish Television. Speculation has been rife that, once Carlton and Granada are fully merged, the new company will look to further consolidate with the purchase of STV.
Opinion is split on whether this would be a good thing for Scotland.
“If some bids do come in for SMG, that could have major ramifications,” says Gow. “We’re talking about business going down to London and everything, but if SMG is bought and the company starts to tighten its belt, who’s to say the sales operations wouldn’t relocate to London or Manchester? So I think there will be big issues next year.”
As Media Drum went to press an announcement on who would take up the most senior commercial position at the merged Carlton and Granada company was imminent. However, opinions from some of the North of England’s major media buying points remain mixed.
Speaking about the issue Dave Lucas, managing director of Media Vest Manchester said: “I think it (the merger) is appaling news for advertisers. The very fact that the OFT is now seeking Contract Rights Renewal agreement shows that the deal shouldn’t have gone through in the first place without splitting the sales houses. What other business would allow a company to dominate the market like this? It’s ridiculous.”
PHD Manchester’s Steve Blakeman commented: “This is such a huge issue. Whatever we see in the short term is bound to be superseded in the long term. I think that the US behemoths will be interested and ownership could change hands within the next couple of years.
Meanwhile Mick Style of Mediaedge:cia, added: “Having a strong trading position on ITV is still crucial for most clients and the clear priority is to protect our trading position in this respect.”
This story is set to run and run, but from a Scottish perspective will have major ramifications, ramifications that an industry still reeling from a tough year can take.
“There was still a lot of recovery in the industry from 2000,” remarked Crane, looking back at the Scottish media industry of 2003.
“It’s been pretty patchy and it’ll be interesting to see when figures come out for the year, nationally, whether we’ve progressed forward any further. It would seem that we’ve moved forward a bit, but I do not think we are back to what we were three years ago.”
The year 2003 also saw several significant advertising and media accounts move south of the border, the most notable of which was the Kwik-Fit business, which in the past had been worth up to £10m to Scotland’s agencies.
“We’ll just have to wait and see if the market and the current trend to take accounts south turns around,” said Gow. “These clients who are attracted by the bright lights may eventually feel that the service they are getting from the big London agencies just cannot compete with what they would get up here. They won’t get the level of experience of person working with them that they would get up here either.”
Accounts moving southward and the slow climb out of the downturn wasn’t the only major news of the last year, however. There were several other news stories grabbing the headlines.
Eatwell pointed out Newsquest’s acquisition of the Herald and its sister papers as a prime example: “I think, in terms of a story, Newsquest is such a strong player in the regional press marketplace, and I think a lot of people thought they would be the winner in that particular battle. It’s a good UK company for the Herald to be associated with, and I think it’s a good thing.”
Glasgow has been a busy city this year, with not only the arrival of Newsquest to shout about, but also the announcement of a new analogue radio licence to boot.
Reaction around the table to the winning bid, Saga Radio, was mixed.
Commented Gow: “I think they need to ditch the name. It’s just got all this baggage. A real image of coffin-dodgers and big slippers. It might take listeners from BBC Radio Scotland from time to time over the day, though, and also some from Radio 2, so there is something there.”
Crane was keener on the winning bid, however, stating: “The age group they are quoting is, I think, 50+. Those are the people who have got grown-up children who have moved out and they have a bit more money to spend and actually have got quite a bit of disposable income.”
Eatwell, meanwhile, pointed out that Saga’s diversity most likely pleased the existing stations in the area. She said: “I think Clyde, Real and the others will have been quite pleased about Saga winning it, because Saga is aiming at a different market from what they offer. I imagine they’re quite pleased, because if it had been someone like Virgin they would have been in direct competition, and competing for audiences.”
From the media owner side of the fence, Ward-Fincham was keen to point out the increasing difficulty over the last twelve months in finding qualified and high-standard sales staff.
She said: “It’s really, really difficult to get good agency sales people. We haven’t found it as hard to get good direct sales people but to get a really, really good calibre of agency sales exec it’s actually very difficult. And everyone’s the same. We found it difficult as well when we were looking for telesales execs, because of the amount of people who are now in call centres. Newspapers used to be one of the biggest employers of telesales people, and we’re not at the races now, compared to the call centres.”
One of the positive messages to emerge from the discussion was the development of the ambient and outdoor sectors during 2003. The table was agreed that, as planners and buyers, both outdoor and ambient have spent the last year honing their offers to agencies.
Crane said: “In the last two or three years it has continued with its innovation. Outdoor is always looking at new ways of being able to present itself.
“When ambient first started it was all very bitty, but now you can buy packages across all the main kinds of ambient media, both regionally and nationally. It’s got its act together an awful lot. When you go into up-market bars or washrooms or whatever you’ve now got a good quality of visual production.”
“In terms of the opportunities there, if you have a good idea and you have the right person to ask, there are all sorts of things you can do now,” agreed Eatwell. “It’s almost limitless. That’s great from a media planning point of view, in terms of being able to find creative ways to express what it is the client is trying to say.”