The Marketing Profile: Carl Ratcliff of Five
LONDON - There's a recurring theme to which Carl Ratcliff, Five's head of brand strategy and marketing, keeps returning - the challenge of communicating the broadcaster's raison d'être to viewers.
Carl Ratcliff, Five
Of course, ignoring what has long been an elephant in the room would have been virtually impossible, but Ratcliff, 38, offers a refreshingly honest assessment of the challenges that he and his team face. 'We've got to make watching Five a habit for people and make the brand something our viewers are proud of, and that's what we're starting to do,' he explains.
This honesty is one of many qualities that define Ratcliff, and his admission that he has a 'terrible sickness for slightly crap television that makes you feel a little bit fluffy' reveals an affable personality - as well as, cynics might say, an indication that he's working at the right broadcaster.
Nonetheless, the seven months since his appointment when he replaced Jane Scott, who left last October, have been marked by radical changes to Five's on- and off-air look. Refreshed on-air identities and changes to its agency arrangements have marked Ratcliff's return to the station where he previously worked as head of viewer research and insight.
In April, Five Life was rebranded as Fiver in a bid to make the channel 'younger, faster, louder', and in June, Five overhauled Five Download, its video-on-demand service, to make it a more complete offering, called Demand Five. Ratcliff also removed VCCP as its ad agency and appointed Grey in its place without a pitch in June.
The fruits of Grey's labours appear to have coincided with a major brand overhaul of the broadcaster's flagship channel, including the introduction of the strapline 'We are Five' and a revamped logo. On the face of it, it's fair to say that in his short time at Five Ratcliff has achieved more than his predecessor did in her two-and-a-half year tenure.
This brand refresh (Ratcliff is reluctant to use the word rebrand) is all part of a deliberate strategy to persuade viewers that Five has more to offer than CSI and Neighbours.
'Historically, Five has been at risk from being known as a default channel,' he admits. 'People rationalise how they feel about us. They'll say we haven't got much on or we've had our chance and blew it. People have put us in an emotional box in their head and aren't necessarily going to give us more time than they could. We have to get them to think about us differently.'
With a background that includes being part of the team at ad agency TBWA\London that helped rebrand Channel 5 to Five in 2002, Ratcliff is adamant that the RTL-owned broadcaster can be a far more prominent player in the TV market.
'I don't think Five has ever been a joke - far from it. People are increasingly noticing it and are now more positively predisposed to us,' he says. 'Coming back here, I felt that Five had lost its way, and I want to use our assets to accelerate improvement with things such as marketing and on-air identity.'
On top of the strategic marketing shifts and brand revamps, Five has also just welcomed back Dawn Airey as chairman and chief executive. Like Ratcliff, it is Airey's second stint at Five and when she set out her stall on her first day in the job last week, she told staff there was a possibility of redundancies.
Interestingly, far from planting the seeds of fear around the broadcaster's Covent Garden base, her appointment has been roundly welcomed - she is expected to make a massive difference to the external perception of Five.
Ratcliff admits that Five's mojo has been lacking of late. 'I'm delighted she [Airey] is coming back in to give us that oomph we have been missing. She will have a keen interest in marketing and who our agencies are, and I am looking forward to getting it all out on the table and asking what she thinks.'
Known for her forthright views, it will be an interesting meeting, and Airey is sure to have an opinion on Ratcliff's next big project - the rebranding of Five US in January.
For now, Five is hoping to make more noise about its original programme commissions. However, budgets are limited and Ratcliff is aware that fresh techniques might be required. 'I want us to really get under the skin of marketing through word of mouth. We don't have as much money as everyone else and I understand that sometimes our commissions struggle to get noticed relying on traditional media. I would like us to explore non-traditional media, outlets and agencies to make that happen.
'It's my job to establish a reputation for Five that it deserves, given its ever-improving origination. While content may well be king, brand reputation is queen. Marketing has to entertain before the main act has even started - that is the challenge.'
It is not the only challenge, however. Internally, there is a major need for stability, with the high-profile departures of Lisa Opie, managing director of content, and Jane Lighting, chief executive, who left after Airey's return was made public. Ratcliff is convinced that there is enough goodwill and positivity within the company to move the brand forward.
'There are lots of things to get excited about here. We're working on issues such as digital switchover and dealing with a lot of stakeholders, and there is a real tightness about our team. I've never known an organisation that is so fiercely proud about itself, and that's because I think Five spent its first years just surviving. When you survive it makes you feel strong, and when you get a bunker mentality in a small team you can go places.'
Ratcliff's positive outlook, however, will take Five only so far in moving forward. The TV ad market remains in a troubled state and the fragmentation of audiences moves on apace. Along the way, Five will have to deal with issues such as the debate about the future of public-service broadcasting (PSB) - a topic Ratcliff says it has strong opinions on, but is regularly left out of the debate in mainstream media reporting.
'We are concerned about things like PSB and working on those major issues like everyone else, but now it feels like we are getting our house in order,' he says. 'If you compare us at 11 years old with the likes of Channel 4 at that age, we are a different species. I know the world is a different place now, but we are a smart little outfit and advertisers and partners recognise that.'
If Ratcliff is successful, and Airey manages to enliven the broadcaster's programming output and provide some stability, then Five's elephant may soon be heading for the door.
This article was first published on Marketing
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