Channel surfing

As Channel 5 is poised to air its on-screen redesign, with help from Five director of marketing David Pullan’s ‘dream team’, Clare Dowdy meets the orchestrator

Despite being the country’s youngest terrestrial TV channel, with such a reputation for ‘adult’ programmes that it was nicknamed Channel Filth, there is something quaintly old-fashioned about Channel 5. At the headquarters on Long Acre, in London’s Covent Garden, a trolley rattles around the building twice a day serving tea and cakes.

This is the latest home of David Pullan, the channel’s marketing director, and orchestrator of its current rebranding. Now known just as Five, the channel is hoping to shake off its smutty image, and with some smart new programmes, encourage light viewers to tune in more frequently.

On joining from MTV in February, Pullan was handed a £9m marketing budget, management of 58 staff, and a three-pronged brief from chief executive Dawn Airey: to refresh the look of the on-screen identity, nail the creative strategy for the business and use marketing to address the gap between people’s perception and the reality of current programming. ‘It felt like an unusual opportunity to get involved with a [TV] brand of this scale that was so relatively unformed,’ says Pullan. ‘I felt that the channel was going places, and, selfishly, I thought it was a place I could make a name for myself.’

He set to work on the rebrand, holding 19 creative pitch meetings in March and April. ‘I’ve been running solidly since I’ve been here,’ he says. That process led to the appointment of WBB to help with the creative strategy, TBWA for the £3m ad campaign, and graphics group Spin for the new identity. Pullan calls them the dream team.

Pullan was familiar with Spin, as the group had worked on MTV UK while he was managing other channels at the music broadcaster. But the group wasn’t appointed before Pullan had conducted a thorough trawl of what else was on offer. He looked at all the usual suspects, from Lambie-Nairn and English & Pockett (now part of Enterprise IG and FutureBrand respectively), to Kemistry and Ortmans Young International.

‘There is definitely a London style,’ he says, ‘but we wanted to do things differently.’ The trick was to avoid looking like the other terrestrials, without being mistaken for a multichannel.

It was Spin’s idea to drop the word ‘channel’ so that a real brand could be built, and the new look is a genuine move away from Wolff Olins’ rather dated graphics. Pullan describes them as flat and neutral, and feeling a bit 1980s, even though they were first aired in 1997. ‘The channel didn’t take ownership of programmes or have a sense of coherence,’ he says.

‘We think this has got a significant shelf-life,’ says Pullan of Spin’s work. The consultancy has created a template that Pullan’s in-house creative services team will work from. And he plans to offer up the channel’s 15-second idents to the world at large. His idea is to come up with new idents every three months by approaching film schools and the like. A new approach for Channel 5, but one that he saw work well at MTV.

This £500 000 on-screen re-design is the biggest that Pullan has handled, but not the only one. At MTV he was in charge of four channels, and commissioned the looks for MTV Dance and Hits, and redesigned MTV Base. It was there that he worked with Mark Farrow, whose consultancy was on the pitch list for the Channel 5 work.

This is the period where Pullan can catch his breath. He’s presented the new look to Five’s 140 staff, and it’s gone down ‘fantastically well’, he says.

The identity launches on 16 September, but any response in terms of audience behaviour will be a long way down the line. ‘TV audiences are notoriously slow to react,’ he says. He would hope to see a positive reaction come November 2003, when viewers will be surveyed for their response to the channel.

‘If we could get light-to-medium viewers to watch half an hour more a week our ratings would increase significantly,’ he adds. ‘The best ways of changing perception of the brand is by changing viewing behaviour.’ He admits that it’s too costly to convert the refuseniks.

But Pullan’s performance is not being measured on audience ratings, rather he has been set targets such as the value of press coverage. And it’s not only the viewers who Pullan is hoping to appeal to. The rebrand has got to go down well with the TV industry as well. ‘Dawn wants to win a Promax Gold next year,’ he says. If that’s what he’s after, Spin was a good choice – the group picked up a D&AD Award for its Channel Four ‘vapour trails’ ident this year.

David Pullan’s CV

1986-9 Oxford University, Philosophy degree (1st class Honours)

1991-3 Harvard University, MBA

1993-8 BMG Ent UK, a number of roles including marketing director, Deconstruction Records

1998-99 BBC, senior advisor, rights strategy

1999-2002 MTV UK, vice-president, marketing and digital channels

February 2002 Channel 5, director of marketing

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