The Fishbowl: Jason Spencer, ITV

The Fishbowl: Jason Spencer, ITV
The Fishbowl

The Media Leader’s interview series asks the media industry’s top salespeople 10 revealing questions, drawn from our fishbowl. The questions will be drawn at random and contain some tricky posers set by the commercial chiefs themselves.

This week, it’s Jason Spencer, business development director at ITV.

Jason Spencer started his career as a researcher at the BBC, before becoming an telesales executive at Manchester Evening News.

He spent most of his career at media agencies, including planning roles at Carat and PHD in London, and later moved to Manchester to head up PHD North.

Spencer joined ITV in 2011 and, as business development director, leads revenue growth in ITV’s nine commercial teams across the UK outside London, working in close partnership with advertisers and agencies.

How did you end up working in media?

Without planning to. Opportunities arose, I wanted to learn something new, and ran towards them.

When I left university, I had no idea what I wanted to do (a philosophy degree was good for seeing all possible eventualities!), so I did a series of jobs — writing questions for a BBC quiz show (pre-internet), running an off-licence and classified telesales at the Manchester Evening News, followed by a year travelling round the world and then signing on for a while afterwards.

I started again at the bottom aged 26 in a graduate job at Carat London (thanks, Rachel Gibbs-McNeil and Jo Blake, for taking a chance on me), working from press to comms planning before a move to PHD London.

After our first son was born (who is now at uni), we moved to Manchester and I ended up running PHD North for a few years before joining ITV. That said, I have been at ITV 13 years now and am constantly learning.

What’s your favourite ad of all time that’s specific to your sector?

My favourite ads are the most memorable ones that make me laugh and want to buy them — either John Smith’s bitter with Peter Kay or Tango “Orange Man” (which features one of my two football heroes, Ray Wilkins — the reason I am a Manchester United fan and have spent half of my life living in Manchester).

Sadly, fewer ads seem to be funny nowadays, so my call to arms, and building on all the evidence from our creative effectiveness partners at System1, is to bring back humour to more campaigns.

What keeps coming up in conversations with clients at the moment?

Effectiveness: prove to me that spending money on TV is going to grow my profit as well as my revenue — and that the multiplier effect of TV makes all my other media work harder too.

Marketing teams are continuing to wrestle with finance directors on proving the impact of marketing investment and increasingly they are coming to us to ask us how we can help. Our investment in outcome tools such as Geo-X and Auction Boost (launched at the ITV Showcase in Manchester recently) helps to prove it, but there is a long way to go.

My favourite meeting recently was presenting with the team in a board meeting where we had been challenged to put our money where our mouth was to help them test TV. The uplift in the test region was double-digit growth from brand to sales and we are now planning how to help them scale nationally.

Why are you passionate about media?

Because it shifts attitudes, makes us feel something and drives behaviour. Not only the advertising but also the programming — think Mr Bates vs The Post Office (now Sir Alan Bates).

Media is so much more complex than it was when I started my career and it is important that we in the industry strive to measure how everything works together — and follow the evidence.

Reports of the death of linear broadcast TV have been widely misreported. Yes, streaming is growing, but live TV viewing is in rude health — record viewing for dramas such as Mr Bates vs The Post Office and Euro 2024 testifies to that. And spot advertising really does drive client business metrics like nothing else.

Describe your work-from-home set-up in no more than 10 words.

Spare room, lonely, productive, thinking time, Monday/Friday, drunk tank.

Which actor would play you in the film of your life and why?

Eric Cantona. We look nothing like each other, but alongside Wilkins, he is my football hero — I remember going to Old Trafford for every match in the mid-to-late 1990s. It would mean I get to meet him.

Peer question: As a sales leader, how do you go about empowering your team members to become great sales leaders of the future?

You should ask them, as you may get a different answer! Stopping doing stuff and supporting from behind. I will be the first to admit I haven’t always done that throughout my career, but I have a great team around me who are far cleverer and better able to do what they do than I will ever be.

I also have a great deputy in Michael McIntyre (no, not that one) and we have caught up at the end of the day on every weekday for the past five years — we feed back on each other and that has made me a better leader and realise that every day you learn something new about yourself. As a result, I have learned to share more, pass on more, encourage more, feedback more and — wherever I can — support more.

Question from Jem Djemal, global new business lead, VIOOH

Peer question: What is the one piece of advice you would give to your younger self starting a career in this industry?

Three: be curious, be brave and get out of London.

Be curious to consume the widest possible range of media (change the radio station, read a different news website, watch a different TV programme), ask clients and agencies more questions when you get a brief, lean in to the stuff you don’t understand or know about.

Be brave to challenge the brief, pitch it differently, make mistakes, fail.

The best career decision I made was to move to Manchester — my 18-year career at PHD North and ITV has been amazing (so far) and there is a huge opportunity in our industry beyond London. Not only are there some amazing agencies and media owner teams, but I also know a lot of people who have set up their own independent agencies across the regions and been hugely successful.

That, along with great quality of life, more space and cost of housing, means that I would encourage everyone to do it at some stage of their career.

Question from Jessica McGrogan, GM business development (brand), The Trade Desk

Peer question: What (if anything) keeps you awake at night?

I’m not a great sleeper at the best of times; I do worry about the way the UK ad industry is so London-centric.

Brands are based all over the UK, as are their customers, but 85% of media spend is concentrated within 10 square miles. With so much talent outside London — from entrepreneurial independent agencies to powerful networks — clients have a plethora of choice.

In no other mature media marketplace is it so one-city-centric as the UK — and that can’t be good. If you are reading this and saying “I don’t believe there is that opportunity outside London”, please do get in touch.

Question from Ed Couchman, head of sales for the UK and Northern Europe, Spotify

Peer question: How is your business driving change? Do you have any best practices or obstacles you confronted to share?

Best practice: when you look at how ITV has evolved in the past four years — ITVX, Planet V, AdLabs and Be Studio, for instance — I think three key themes emerge.

Create conversations: pick the phone up, meet people, ask questions, listen, respond.

Always be in beta: test, learn, iterate, then either ditch or scale — but don’t be afraid to make mistakes along the way.

Celebrate your superpower: be proud and enthused about what you sell in order to breed confidence among brands and agencies, backed by an amazing team.

Obstacle: how do we attract the next generation of talent to our industry and make this a more diverse, accessible career option? I love the work I have been involved in with Salford City Academy through Upriser and also with the University of Sheffield — but there is a lot more we can all do to continue to make this the amazing industry it is.

Question from Emma Newman, chief revenue officer, EMEA, PubMatic

Read more Fishbowl interviews here and see what media’s top salespeople say about working in the industry and what concerns their clients. To suggest an interviewee, contact ella.sagar@uk.adwanted.com.

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