James Warburton on transformation, first appointment, relaunch date

• Mediaweek Q&A with new Seven West Media chief executive

He’s only been the new Seven West Media CEO for three business days, but already James Warburton has been talking up the business at length, revealing his plans for revitalising the broadcaster and publisher, and connecting with media agency heads and clients.

On day three Warburton delivered the full year Seven West Media results, a not-so-spectacular performance that revealed a massive write down, but a business with an underlying net profit of $130m.

On day four, Warburton will be in Melbourne to meet with analysts and to address their concerns and reveal more of his vision.

Warburton spoke to Mediaweek at the end of his day three.

Mandate for change starts with Seven’s content

You need to be as transparent as you can be in terms of what your objectives are and how you’re going to run the business, and then you’ll be measured on it.

We are only three days in, so let’s not get too carried away in terms of having all the detail. If nothing else, from what people took out today, as our chairman said on Friday, it’s a change of direction. There’s a mandate from the board that is about transforming the company and looking to do things differently. That starts with our content across all the platforms, and leads us on a different journey to where we’ve been.

Learnings from previous CEO roles at 10, Supercars, APN Outdoor

Any relationship is a two-way street. Ultimately what your staff wants is to feel really proud of the company they’re working for. They want to give everything that they’ve got, and they want to feel valued.

It comes back to clear communication. We had that opportunity first thing on Friday morning, and the chairman and I were able to shoot a video and it went around to the three thousand-odd staff, various town halls, and tied in with the management team. It really helps to come back to an organisation that I spent really good years with. They were really enjoyable years in a job and in a company like ours.

It’s about passionate people really pushing hard for outcomes.

Despite me leaving and going to a competitor [Network 10] in 2011, the fact is, the vast majority of the team I continued to work with. Both as when we had our rights at Supercars, then even as recently as a couple of weeks before I was appointed – working with some new motor sport interests and some other opportunities in the market. The respect has always been there both ways. It’s been terrific to get in there and to work again with some very passionate people.

Unfinished business in previous roles

At Network 10 I didn’t have long enough. Ultimately, a few CEOs later, where it is today, it’s still difficult for 10.

I certainly felt going into APN Outdoor that I had unfinished business in a listed market. The outcomes on everything we were doing were very positive, to get an earnings upgrade and to have the spike in share price that we saw was exactly what you want in terms of dealing with investors. Ultimately JCDecaux came over the top and that deal looks even better today than it did at the time.

The deal was outstanding, but in some ways I was disappointed because I thought we had a very good journey [ahead] at APN.

Transformation at Seven

I’ve been very clear about the areas in which we’re going to operate and work hard in. My point today was, we’ve got a lot of very powerful assets, and we’ve got specific areas that I was completely transparent about in relation to what we’re going to do to improve. The base is there, very clearly there’s some areas of challenge.

The one thing I’ve learned after going into 10 is to be incredibly clear in terms of what your plan is, what your mandate is, and then more importantly the ability to execute.

Seven has been outplayed a little bit

I was completely transparent with the market in terms of where we are. That Sunday to Tuesday 7.30pm has been an issue. Look across the rest of the schedule, and the fact that we have 52 weeks of sport between the AFL and the cricket, we have an incredible base.

I go back to my good friend David Leckie‘s comments about bricks in the wall, we’ve got a pretty solid foundation. Then what we need to do, is we need to get back to creating, executing and launching original formats, something we were the best at that.

We’ve been outplayed a little bit, but there have been budget cuts because of sport, probably in areas that shouldn’t have been cut.

It’s also about where we’re spending the money as well. There’s a big budget and it’s about making sure we’re maximising every dollar we spend in our budget. It’s not just about spending more money in the mix.

Warburton reveals Seven Network relaunch timetable

I’m absolutely salivating around the prospect of relaunching the network in July of next year with the entire nation watching us [during the Tokyo Olympics]. When you talk about wrestling back the momentum, we have to work hard to be in a position to really launch out of the Olympics. Whether you have a view on the Olympics, or the cost, I’ll tell you right now, I’m absolutely delighted. I’m a big believer in sport.

Refocussing Seven’s target audience

We’ve got a bit old in some timeslots, so for us it’s actually about looking specifically at every slot and every opportunity so for us. We are older than 10, and you’ve got to be careful about going too young, but there are some areas of the schedule that need to freshen up that’s for sure.

First new management team appointment

One of the critical new appointments is potentially a chief operating officer [COO]. I am looking at the over-all structure, looking at our operating efficiencies and who we are.

Initial feedback from media agencies

I’ve always had outstanding relationships and I’ve always worked very hard with key clients and the agency people. I’ve always worked on the principle of – do what you say you’re going to do, don’t bullshit to them, and work as hard as you possibly can to give them media firsts and great opportunities. The media community itself has always been very supportive.

I also think they are a valuable source of information to launch and test your plans, and talk a bit about where they see Seven. I’m looking forward to engaging with the market.

I’ve contacted the top tier agencies as quickly as possible, and a number of our clients. I wrote a letter today to all the agencies and all of our top clients, which detailed the results and focused on the strategy. I sent out staff notes. We are very focused on our clients and our advertisers who are very valuable customers.

And I want to say Kurt Burnette [Seven’s chief revenue officer] and the sales team has done an outstanding job, they’ve really expanded across the course of the year. We’ve got an outstanding sales team and we just need to get a better product.

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