The Fishbowl: Mark Smith, Clear Channel
The Media Leader’s interview series asks the industry’s top salespeople revealing questions, drawn from our fishbowl. The questions are drawn at random and contain some tricky posers set by the commercial chiefs themselves.
This week, Mark Smith, UK sales director at Clear Channel.
Mark Smith started his career as an account executive in sales at TDI Advertising (now Global) and later moved to Poster Publicity, working there for more than five years and becoming an account director.
He then worked in leadership roles spanning business, strategic planning and client service at Kinetic Worldwide over more than six years.
Smith joined Clear Channel as agency sales director in 2014 and became UK sales director in 2018.
Why are you passionate about media?
Let’s face it, if you’re not, you’re probably in the wrong job/sector! I have always felt extremely lucky to do what I do. While I was keen to join the “creative industries” from a young age, like most people, I developed my understanding of the role of advertising and media pretty much on the job.
I think what’s kept me passionate is that the sector is constantly evolving and therefore I am always learning new things — be that about consumer behaviour, the latest in creativity or what’s driving our clients’ business success. Plus, I get to work with some brilliant brands, agencies and people in a hugely sociable industry. What’s not to love?
What are the three most important skills that a media salesperson needs in 2024?
I think the key thing all us need to bear in mind is that almost everyone in the industry is selling, yet few people actually like being sold to. People buy people, so it’s really important that you are authentically yourself at all times.
You also need to be trusted. Successful media campaigns get repeated; unsuccessful ones don’t. Never try and sell a solution that you don’t believe will work for the client, even if that means suggesting a competitor proposition might be more suited to the brief.
You also need to be a good storyteller. We are in the business of communicating carefully crafted narratives to encourage consumers to make the right buying decisions. The same quality of articulation should apply when selling media — or, in my case, posters — to our industry peers.
Peer question: What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
I was going to say something about ending up in the luggage rack on a train on the way back from a client event, but I’ll go more heartfelt!
Not sure embarrassing is the right term, but certainly one that played on my vulnerabilities many years ago was admitting to colleagues that I was struggling with my mental health. The subject matter was a compete taboo at the time and even now, I often think twice about mentioning it. But when you do open up about these things, you quickly realise that you are not alone. In fact, almost everyone has some experience of it, whether that is personally or via family or friends.
I think it’s important that the leaders in our industry talk about their own struggles and it is great to see that many peers are now doing so. I recently heard about what the IPA are doing with the launch of Adlands Wellbeing Lab and the People First Promise, which are designed to support mental health of our most important asset: our people. I’d highly recommend checking out Josh Krichefski’s recent IPA president’s speech encouraging all companies to get on board.
Question from Verica Djurdjevic, chief revenue officer, Channel 4
When did you last change your mind about something?
Probably about five minutes ago, when deciding how to answer question three! I think being able to change your mind is a positive trait. The older I get, the more I realise that my opinions and views can also evolve, often for the better.
It’s therefore a shame that wisdom is so seemingly undervalued in the UK media scene (where does everyone go when they are over 50?). I’m keen to play my part in being the first generation of media folk to change all that rubbish.
What keeps coming up in conversations with clients at the moment?
Retail media seems to be one of the industry’s buzz terms for 2024. This makes me chuckle as the OOH sector has been working with retail partners like Sainsbury’s, Asda and Tesco — offering media solutions at, and on the way to, store — for many decades. Still, it’s good news that there’s renewed interest in this space.
The focus now is how the different channels can integrate to create a seamless consumer experience and how other retailers can monetise both their offline and online offerings. OOH is certainly well-placed to play a pivotal role in this, whether for brands that want to tap into retail audiences or for retailers looking to optimise their own assets.
What’s your favourite ad of all time that’s specific to your sector?
This is like picking your favourite child — there are too many (ads, not kids, that is!). I’m a big fan of brilliant brand ads. And while the OOH channel does lots of things well, its absolute superpower is building brands through mass reach.
It is fair to say that the return from Covid-19 meant a number of advertisers had to find bolder ways to reconnect with their audiences. And OOH has benefited from a huge uptick in creativity as a result.
My recent favourites include the work for Müller Corner and Nestlé KitKat — both examples of how to craft truly powerful posters.
What are three words that people often use to describe you?
I actually asked my colleagues this one. Their immediate answer was “short”, “shouty” and “loud”, which I took that to mean “compact”, “opinionated” and “fun”.
I can’t do much about being a tad vertically challenged (apart from continuing to fly the flag for all the shorties across the industry). I am proud to have an opinion, however. It’s a really important attribute if you work in this sector — we are literally paid for them! I am also well-known for having FOMO, so never miss a chance to head to an industry get-together — I know I am not alone! If that makes me fun, then I’ll take it all night long.
Peer question: How do you develop, motivate and engage your team in a hybrid working environment?
This question is giving me 2021 vibes. I motivate my team in exactly the same way I did pre-Covid — setting clear, stretching but achievable goals, ensuring there is genuine collaboration between individuals and, most importantly of all, by creating a positive environment.
You hear lots of horror stories about sales floors being negative, overtly political places that are dog-eat-dog. The culture in the Clear Channel sales team couldn’t be further from that.
Yes, we work hard and push ourselves, but we genuinely have fun doing it and enjoy spending time in each other’s company. While you can never completely replicate the energy of being in the same room with clients, engaging them in real life or on Teams both require skill and expertise to pull it off. They are different tools but, by blending them correctly, there’s no reason that working hybrid should hamper your success.
Question from Mark Bucknell, chief commercial officer, JCDecaux UK
Peer question: If you could work with any other media owner on a collaborative campaign for an advertiser, who would it be and why?
This is a good one. My top choices would always be medias good gals and guys that share similar “platform for good” business ethics, societal and environmental values as Clear Channel. I can think of several and I think we all know who they are.
One that we’ve recently worked with is Channel 4. We collaborated on a project alongside The Good Side and Backlight called “The UK’s Untapped Business Potential”. The project looked at how we can better support black-owned business in media and aided the design of Channel 4’s Black in Business and Clear Channel’s ongoing Compass initiatives, which look to champion these businesses through free advertising and mentoring. The project recently picked up a Market Research Society award and is shortlisted in the Adwanted Media Research Awards, so watch this space!
Question from Emma Callaghan, sales and invention director, Reach
Peer question: What advice would you give your younger self?
I sound like my dad saying it, but “be yourself”. I felt the pressure when I joined the industry way back in 1997 to “fit in”. I quickly realised that not being independently educated, from a middle-class family and residing in a big pile in Surrey wasn’t something you shouted about.
Now I am a little longer in the tooth, I wear my background as a badge of honour and I would encourage everyone else to do the same. As a result, I have never enjoyed my time in the industry more. I went to a comprehensive school. I didn’t go to uni. My family are working-class. I am from Essex. And I work in media. There, I’ve said it.
Question from Ed Couchman, head of sales for UK and Northern Europe, Spotify
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.