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ITV's commercial chief Fru Hazlitt: Determining the digital keepers

After a bumper summer in which TV ad revenue surged 12 per cent, ITV is also seeing promising growth in online, pay and interactive revenues. FruHazlitt, ITV’s commercial chief, tells The Drum’s Jessica Davies what makes one of the UK’s most powerful content and marketing powerhouses tick.

Never try to compete with the likes of Google and Facebook – a core lesson for any traditional media owner like ITV, according to its commercial chief Fru Hazlitt. That is what the UK’s biggest commercial broadcaster lost sight of for a while, under pressure to evolve in sync with the lightning pace of the online environment. But three years since becoming managing director of commercial and online, Hazlitt has helped steer ITV through some of its more difficult years.“I realised pretty quickly that we are not a technology company and we should not try to compete on that scale – that is what we had, for a time, been trying to do, and what many media owners have tried to do. We don’t want to compete with Facebook, Google or Twitter. I know what those companies are like. I’ve worked inside one. "They have tens of thousands of engineers working around the clock. But do they have in their soul the goods to come up with the next Broadchurch or Downton Abbey or entertainment format? No, that’s a very different DNA,” she says.Hazlitt is in a good position to judge, having spent more than half a decade as UK and Ireland MD of Yahoo at its zenith between 1999 and 2005. Despite the obvious cultural differences between companies like Yahoo and ITV, they draw surprising parallels, according to Hazlitt.“At Yahoo they all had tattoos of the purple Y and they all worshipped it – thought we were changing the world. There was absolutely no cynicism because they weren’t old enough to have any and hadn’t yet failed at anything.”Yet despite the fact Yahoo was a young company some of its methods, at first fresh and distinctive, were already becoming ingrained and habitual – showing symptoms of what a former colleague referred to as “paved goat paths” – a term that has stuck with Hazlitt ever since and gave her the eye to spot the cracks when she joined a shaky ITV ten years later.Paved goat paths, if left unchecked, will stunt a company’s ability to adapt to and evolve with any new market variable, be it a new technology or a fundamental shift in human behaviour. They are outdated techniques that are no longer the most efficient routes, but represent “torturous” and at times “ridiculous” ways of doing things, according to Hazlitt.“The idea is that you have a mountain that needs a road for people to cross to the other side. So you look at the paths that have been most used already to cross. Once you find the most trodden route you can pave it and that becomes the official road. But in fact the only reason that path is so clear is because goats have used it, and they’re far more nimble than humans with their cars. So it would actually be crazy and even dangerous to pave that path, far better to build one around the foot of the mountain that may appear longer but is more efficient and suitable for the future,” she explains.Spotting and challenging these paved goat paths was a critical part of Hazlitt’s induction to ITV, which, being an older, more conventional company than Yahoo, was “absolutely jam-packed full” of them, according to Hazlitt.Combining people with intrinsic knowledge and passion for the brand, with those who can spot the paved goat paths is a powerful mix, and one which Hazlitt believes the broadcaster has become adept at cultivating.The TV landscape has exploded in the last few years, with broadcasters widening their content syndication far beyond the traditional main screen, to online, mobile, tablets and game consoles. Meanwhile, experimenting with interactive video ad formats, second screen opportunities and multiplatform storytelling has seen broadcasters explore new revenue streams outside the30-second TV spot, in a way that capitalises on the accountability of the web.Hazlitt believes the current opportunities for broadcasters are infinite, with second screen products in particular providing a vital return path to complement the powerful brand-building platform that is the broadcast medium. “In the past we have only done push communications, brand-building stuff on the main screen, which is still the most powerful for advertising, but with second screen we are now starting to track people’s reactions and interactions. We’re still only at the foothills of this but are already seeing interesting things from the data insight,” she says.ITV is now halfway through its five-year transformation plan, in which it pledged to move away from its reliance on TV spot advertising revenue and grow its presence online and internationally. This commitment has seen it strike content distribution deals with Netflix and Lovefilm and launched a paid-for version of its TV catch-up player, to test how it can monetise its huge archive catalogue.However, Hazlitt is adamant ITV won’t be sucked into the “noise, froth and bubble” that surrounds the online space, in which new technologies or ways of doing things seem to emerge constantly. Only if a new method is commercially viable will it see the light of day at ITV.“People get excited by all the terms around multiplatform, but we shouldn’t talk about things until we have made money from them. Let’s test first to determine what the keepers are,” she says.Hazlitt believes women aren’t represented enough in multiple professions, including digital, and that businesses see the sharpest drop-off in female employees when they hit their mid-thirties. She believes entrepreneurship could be the key to reversing this.As chair of the division for underprivileged women at The Prince’s Trust, she passionately believes women have what it takes to excel as entrepreneurs. She cites research highlighting that women can outshine men in this area, adding that it provides a bridge for women with families to gain a solid foothold back in the workplace on their own terms.“You can be [an entrepreneur] at any time of your life. That’s flexibility, pride, economic growth, it’s non-ageist, and many women are more in touch with consumers than men. I want to encourage women to do that – it’s going to be one of my big projects,” she adds.Yet Hazlitt is clearly frustrated at the extent women criticize each other for the choices they make around family and career and that they must learn to support each other more if they are to be successful. “I don’t get why women do this but it must stop – we should just be proud to be birds!”The Women in Digital series is sponsored by:

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