Profile: Putting It All on Red

Marketing, June 10, 2009 | Go to article overview

Profile: Putting It All on Red


Jeff Dodds, brand and marketing director at Virgin Media TV, is looking forward with a fresh vision for his channels. Interview by Sarah Johnson.

He sits awkwardly on his chair, just tall enough to see over the table and with his face set with a rictus grin. Red may have just taken up his role as Virgin 1's brand ambassador, but the puppet is clearly already considered an integral part of the team.

In the next seat, Jeff Dodds, Virgin Media Television (VMTV)'s director of brand and marketing, is more animated as he discusses his knitted protege. Red, he says, is the first stage of a strategy that is intended to transform Virgin's content division into a brand-focused operation.

Some might be surprised at Dodd's optimism, considering that speculation about the division being sold off was making headlines before he had seen his office.

VMTV's stock line is 'We won't comment on speculation.' When asked if the company is facing uncertainty, Dodds responds wryly: 'So is every other business in the world at the moment.'

He took on the new role last December, since when reports have emerged that the division is at the centre of a bidding war. Sky purportedly offered pounds 160m for the portfolio of channels, and Channel 4, Time Warner, RTL and NBC Universal are also thought to have made bids.

Dodds' strategy to rebrand Virgin 1 and extend the Living brand with a third channel could be seen as an attempt to tie a ribbon around the division as it is packaged up for the highest bidder.

He seems an improbable candidate for the top marketing job at VMTV After making his name as head of marketing at Honda, 35-year-old Dodds disappeared off the marketing radar, taking what he describes as his 'dream job' as European marketing director at Callaway Golf.

'I'm an absolute golf nut,' Dodds enthuses. 'To turn down an opportunity to work in your dream industry and understand how it works from the inside-out was too good not to take. It almost didn't feel like work for two years, it was so much fun.'

So why leave? 'For a few reasons. First, golf is a really small industry. The opportunity to get your work noticed on a larger stage was not really there. I'd just had a baby, and Callaway is a Californian company on the West coast of America. I could be away three or four months of the year.' Ultimately, the deal-maker was 'the opportunity to work in television for such an amazing brand. It made it a really easy decision.'

The Virgin Media brand certainly has a high profile, but it has also faced its share of turmoil in recent months. Aside from the bidding speculation, like other commercial broadcasters it has been cutting costs as it struggles to balance the books in the advertising downturn. At the end of last year, parent company Virgin Media cut 2200 jobs, or 15% of its total staff. None of these, however, came from the TV division.

Part of this cost-cutting was an attempt to pay off some of the business' net debt, which is estimated at pounds 5.9bn. The company is seeking a pounds 120m improvement in its cash flow by 2012. This could make selling its content division even more appealing.

In its most recent financial results, Virgin Media reported a fourth-quarter net loss of pounds 241m, compared with pounds 163.2m for the same period the previous year. Revenue for the quarter declined slightly, from pounds 1.05bn to pounds 1.03bn year on year.

Still, the TV division is performing well, Dodds reports, with new content driving higher ratings. 'The Virgin brand brings an automatic profile to the business,' he says. …

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