Martin Heaton Cooper, VP commercial development UK, Ireland and International, advertising sales EMEA, Discovery Networks, shares his experiences of the advertising and media industries.
What first attracted you to join Discovery Networks?
As so often is the case when it comes to careers, I didn’t have a master plan. I had taken the role of managing director at NBC as maternity cover when I got a phone call from [Viacom International’s executive VP, managing director sales] Chris Shaw, who was on a temporary contract at Discovery Networks at the time. It all sounded very interesting – plus it was Discovery. It’s been a fantastic six years watching this company grow and grow, organically as well as through acquisition.
How has your role evolved over the past six years?
Everybody is talking about content, and on lots of different levels. A lot has been made about a slight decline in commercial TV viewing last year, and people leap on that and say, ‘It’s the beginning of the end,’ which I absolutely don’t agree with at all.
The new OTT services that have come along are hanging their hat on getting the best possible content deals they can, and it must be very confusing from a consumer perspective – broadly similar services offering the same content. Then you also have big media agency groups sometimes forcing their way into the content conversation, and brands that are getting into content.
The phrase ‘content is king’ has been around for years, but it feels as though everyone is converging, and there is going to be a tug of war over it. One of the great strengths of Discovery is that we own all our content, and we localise it to over 200 countries.
What have been the most notable changes in the advertising industry since your career began?
It’s hilarious to think back. When I started at Zenith Media, nobody had a PC. We just had these terminals that were linked to the TV booking system. I remember the first PCs arriving – before everyone had bits of paper, a rubber and a calculator, and that’s how you did your maths. Then, at Universal McCann, everybody smoked. You would have ash trays piled up with fag butts all around. It makes me feel very old to think of it in those terms!
The big change now is the number of devices everyone has. The ways people are connected and communicate are extraordinarily different. Nowadays everyone is carrying around four or five devices, and that affects the communications industry. And everything feels a lot more global now, with that connectivity. The world feels smaller.
What has been the biggest challenge of your career?
The year I did as managing director at NBC was probably the toughest year of my career. My good friend who left to have a baby went at a time when NBC had just bought Sparrowhawk Media, which led to a merging to two teams that really weren’t set up in the same way at all. Sparrowhawk was set up as a global team, while NBC was more London-centric. For a start, don’t ever get involved in an office move! It was very challenging. And in that year we also had to renegotiate with Virgin Media, and we launched an HD variant of Syfy.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I place a lot of importance on my team. I’m driven and ambitious; I don’t miss targets. But I also try to have a really good sense of fun. Throughout my career, I’ve always tried to do things with a smile on my face. When times are tough you have to keep that sense of humour. I also try to coach and mentor, giving people enough breathing room to develop, but to be there to be a sounding board and to bring them with you. All the teams I’ve had have been cohesive and enjoyed one another’s company, but also diverse in terms of backgrounds.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?
I’ve always had a good work ethic – my dad is proper blue-collar, working class – and I always worked as a kid. But one recent piece of advice I got from Doug Baker [CFO, COO Discovery Networks International] was, ‘It’s those that can see through the chaos that will do well in business,’ and that’s absolutely right. Business is chaos, especially in a global organisation with a matrix structure, where you’re reporting to people driven by different things. You need to be able to cut through that and find out what is going to drive growth in your business.
What trend do you think is going to most shape the industry in 2015?
With content consumption, we’re all watching with bated breath to see whether we’re at the beginning of a trend, and whether it’s accelerating or slowing. For me, if someone is watching piece of piece of broadcaster-owned content, either on a phone or a tablet, that is still TV. Because we own our content, we can put it anywhere we like.
There are so many buzzwords. Native advertising? For me that’s just branded content. We’re in the branded content space – one of the best things I’ve ever been involved with is a deal we did with Shell Helix for three one-hour shows, funded by the brand, and the content we created was incredible. It was seen by 30 million people. Putting out a 30-second ad for motor oil, there’s no way you could get across the same message. We also created content to promote Casio’s sponsorship of Red Bull Racing (see below). Brands are more and more interested in this.
What are your passions outside of work?
I have a fantastic wife, who is an actress and about five times brighter than I am! She’s the brains of the family by far. Then I’ve got my little girl, who is three, and my little boy, who is six, and I try to spend as much time with them as possible. I do love cooking at the weekend, and I try to see my mates as well, I’ve got a great circle of friends. And what I used to do before the kids came along is anything to do with adrenaline – snowboarding, bungee jumping, karting, I’ve driving an F1 car. Any excuse to get the adrenaline going!