They say you can't put lipstick on a bulldog, but is that what ITV is trying to do as it relaunches ITV Sales in the softer and more seductive guise of ITV Customer Relations?
With ITV1 predicted to end the year with a 13 per cent decline in revenue, and a 20 per cent drop in the final quarter, the broadcaster clearly needs to do whatever it can to woo advertisers. The restructure, which sees ITV's three sales teams replaced with two departments, one responsible for trading and the other for media planning, is designed to help ITV get involved earlier in the buying process and, as it says, "to maximise creative solutions" across the ITV portfolio.
However, what does a media owner offering media planning mean? If this is all about ITV trying to think more about its family of broadcast and interactive brands, and being more accommodating to agencies and clients looking for integrated communications solutions, then it might have legs.
Nevertheless, Neil Johnston, the head of TV at OMD UK, is slightly baffled by any broadcaster trying to impress him with their planning expertise: "We very rigorously plan our media, so will this mean ITV has any more influence over our media planning? No, of course not. I admire that ITV is trying to be more forward-thinking and do things differently, but it is ultimately a sales organisation, so this is about trying to bring in extra money."
Johnston also says the idea is not even that new: "Most of the broadcasters already do this in some form - they have specialists who can talk to media planners. As a customer relations role, that's fine, but if they are presenting this as a real planning unit, then they're under-estimating the rigour that we put into the process."
Chris Locke, the trading director at Starcom, agrees that ITV is not blazing a new trail by offering some form of planning insight, but forgives it for getting the job of restructuring the broadcast and digital offering done first. "To be fair, ITV has been busy building its digital business, buying Friends Reunited and rebuilding its programming. But it is about time it woke up to a new way of selling its content. It's what we call 'liquid content', moving across platforms. It is how advertisers want to engage."
Locke likes the way that ITV seems to be distinguishing between "upfront engagement" through spot ads and "long tail" planning in digital and interactive. "They're trying to drill you down from mass into niche content," he says, adding: "It shows they're thinking about how to engage advertisers in a three-dimensional way." However, Locke says that the new Customer Relations team has to "truly treat clients like customers. In the past ITV has been expert at using the first two letters in a far shorter word."
Clients seem to welcome the move, but question if it will make any real difference. Andrew Constable, the head of media at Coors Brewers, says: "It won't have any real idea of whether this has worked until 12 months' time when it starts negotiating its 2008 deals. It would be terrible if it then has a knee-jerk reaction if it hasn't yet worked. I wonder whether, as a sales organisation that reports to the City, it has the patience to really give this the time - perhaps two years - to bed down."
Having said that, Constable applauds ITV for making an effort to reach out to advertisers in a more open way: "As a client, the more I hear arguments from media owners that are not just isolated to their own medium, or even their own patch within that medium, the more they make sense. The fact that ITV now seems prepared to have those wider conversations can only be a good thing."
Andy Bolden, the European media director of GlaxoSmithKline, has experience of putting together a cross-platform campaign with ITV, having worked with it on a push for Lucozade Energy earlier in the year. He says a well-integrated communication was created, but that ITV being able to roll up its sleeves and engage with the nitty-gritty of every element of the plan is essential: "It has some very good client-facing people, but if it is setting itself up to do this integrated stuff, it needs to rethink the kind of relationships it has with agencies and advertisers.
"It needs to realise that a lot of communications plans are now built without necessarily having mass at the heart of them. It is going to have to be flexible and fleet of foot."
NO - NEIL JOHNSTON, HEAD OF TV, OMD UK
"Will it help it bring in any more money? I'm not sure. If you sell media, however you dress it up, that's still what you need to do. It is trying to change perceptions of it, and for ITV that is a hard thing to do, but at least it is trying."
YES - CHRIS LOCKE, TRADING DIRECTOR, STARCOM
"What this does is offer a chance to engage audiences more intimately and directly. ITV (and Channel 4) are driving the process and I think advertisers will respond. ITV needs to sell TV first, the ITV 'family' second and content third."
YES - ANDREW CONSTABLE, HEAD OF MEDIA, COORS BREWERS
"I like what it is doing, but ITV is behind compared with other media owners. News International has had something similar for two or three years - it understands where its media sits in the marketplace."
MAYBE - ANDY BOLDEN, EUROPEAN MEDIA DIRECTOR, GLAXOSMITHKLINE
"This is a bold move, but to make it work, it needs to follow it up with some credibility. It needs the right people with the right credentials to truly integrate communication solutions around its platforms."
This article was first published on Campaign