Simon Kelner on getting across the Bay of Biscay in a Force 9 gale

Simon Kelner, newly-promoted to managing director of The Independents, offers the FT a candid assessment of what’s going on in ad markets.

Media buyers are worried by the “terrible” turmoil in the City. Clients won’t commit to spending anything “three months hence”.

It’s a bit like sailing across the Bay of Biscay on a bad day, says Kelner.

Indeed, if the Beaufort Scale was used to measure advertising recessions, Kelner reckons we’d be “getting up to double figures”. (For reference: 9 characterises a severe gale; 10 is a storm; 11 is a violent storm.)

“We are fighting for every pound of advertising take we can scrabble for,” says Kelner. He adds (quite plausibly) that the Independent is “probably more used to being fleet of foot and having to live on our wits than other papers“.

Such honesty is unusual in commercial managers, who’d much prefer you to go away from a conversation with the impression that their sales operation is somehow faring better than the rest of the market.

In this respect, ad sales is a bit like banking. Confidence counts for a lot. In the end, it’s blank space that’s sold to clients and agencies on a daily basis.

Kelner’s candour can be criticised as a bit naïve. But at least it sets expectations correctly. If we’re heading for the heart of the storm, what’s the point of suffering in silence?

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