Granada's Rob McLoughlin on local TV, Greg Dyke, elections and why he'd consider a "Hasgrove 2"
Rob McLoughlin returns as a judge to the Prolific North Awards in May and to ITV screens with Party People on Thursday as he marks his 20th year hosting political current affairs and election programmes on Granada. Prolific North caught up with the man who founded Hasgrove plc, was a Granada director and first co-host of Weekend Breakfast on BBC Radio five Live (with Jane Garvey) as he prepares to interview Greg Dyke in Manchester about football, the BBC and their alma mater, the University of York.
'Party People' returns to Granada for another annual run on Thursday (January 16, 11.45pm), your 20th year hosting such shows for Granada. Will it be as dramatic a year as people expect?
Yes, one way or another I’m sure, the name-calling has already started and of course sadly, we have the first by-election of the year on our doorstep. Programme one in the new run is straight into the controversy over whether the coalition is pulling apart or not, and also the on-going dispute over HS2. "Monumental mistake" is how the Deputy Prime Minister refers to the Chancellor’s welfare cuts and "not sensible" is how the Business Secretary refers to the PM on immigration. Collective responsibility?
I think there are two ways to view the year ahead – seismic or phoney.
In television we always say ‘success has many parents, while failure is a lonely orphan’. Nobody claims responsibility for turkeys – you’ll never meet anyone who worked on the shows or channels which flopped but plenty who were there when man landed on the moon! Politics is very similar and watch now as the coalition pulls apart slowly to head off defeat or disappointment for the individual parties in the Euro Elections in May and later in the General Election in 2015.
Also if Scotland votes to go indy in September 2014 – no one will recall ever saying that devolution makes the union stronger. What will interest rate increases do to the most vulnerable in our economy? What shape will the NHS be in? What will happen at the Euro Elections, local elections and in Scotland?
So plenty of time to panic then among our leaders over the next 15 months and those MPs who will fear for their seats if the messaging and policies are not right for their specific voters.
Local TV starts this year - will it work?
Hope so. Needs to make big waves quickly as the marketplace for TV is crowded and they will need to have relevance, innovation and new ideas.
I was in the USA in November 2013 and when you look at how well local TV meshes into the big networks, especially at breakfast time, you do wonder if the economic model requires the support of one of the big UK services to push the schedule. We will see, London’s service appears ambitious and Bay in Liverpool have some real experience behind them. Fingers crossed.
If it works and proves that a market can be found then I hope it will inspire more regional programmes across the country on the BBC and other channels. I will support if asked.
Hasgrove, which you co-founded, surprised everyone when it sold Amaze for between £15 and £24m (depending on earnout). Hasgrove bought it out of administration for £600,000 and turned it around - would you consider now doing Hasgrove 2, another buy and build?
My phone never stopped ringing when the Amaze deal was announced but as I kept pointing out, I didn’t buy Amaze nor sell it, it was the skilful work of Godfrey Taylor (chairman), Paul Sanders (CEO) and their talented teams.
That said, we often stated we would go again at the right moment. There are things about Hasgrove’s success (it reached turnover of £36m within two years, employed more than 300 people in six countries and saw shareholder value leap by more than 400% after flotation) which I don’t think the market fully appreciated. We were very prescriptive, up until Amaze, about what we bought, how we bought it, how we would treat the brands we bought and how we would manage those companies. There was a philosophy and ethos we stuck to and it worked. I learned a lot of that from the later ITV takeovers by Granada.
We actually put creativity at the heart of the deals, and improving the creative aspects of the companies was critical.
The uniqueness explained why we could buy companies such as Interel (PR and Public Affairs) in Brussels and Paris which were really destined for Sir Martin Sorrell and WPP.
Mark Barlow and I were the original co-founders and he is now enjoying runaway success with his new venture AppLearn, based at The Sharp Project in Manchester, and we are working together on creating an exceptional International Advisory Board for his company. If we could free up some of his time then yes I would consider it.
You have to have the right players alongside and Mark is exceptional in his know-how, reading of markets, optimism and sheer energy. The right strategy, right partners in terms of acquisitions – and the word ‘partner’ made us different, it is not about subsuming companies – right finance package and just sheer determination to succeed.
You also have to reject most approaches from companies who want to be bought. The fit is everything if you really want to add value to the culture, business and for shareholders. Oh and avoid debt for as long as you can, that proved to be a life saver in the credit crunch.
I am open to ideas though.
Hasgrove was design, marketing, PR, public affairs and digital - what area would you consider for a Hasgrove 2?
We’ve known for 20 years that anything with a screen has the potential of receiving entertainment, information and news. I’ve always believed that TV viewing would grow as more devices emerged and that radio listening would grow as well, and it's happened that way. People may watch differently but the number of TV licences has grown by a million in recent years in the UK and more than 26m are in circulation and total viewing and listening is up. That’s despite and ironically helped by the net.
Global demand should grow as new countries expand their markets. Also content and those skills can apply to so many different areas – AppLearn is using TV technology and techniques in specialist learning and the users enjoy it because they are so familiar with the style.
That said I am really enjoying working with some talented, energetic young people in some fabulous North West companies, so I would need a lot of convincing before agreeing to a Hasgrove 2.
The story is great but it was two years in preparation, which everyone forgets. Hard slog, so the backing and approach has to be just right.
You are hosting 'An Evening with Greg Dyke' in March in Manchester - what can we expect?
This will be a must for anyone interested in the media, its future, the BBC, sport, the FA and also education – he is such a fascinating personality and he belongs to that generation which says it, whether you agree or not, as he sees it.
The press find him irresistible, a target in some quarters and so quotable and with the World Cup so close, what better time than spring to have an audience with Greg?
The date is yet to be announced but stand by as tickets for your Prolific North readers will be available for An Evening with Greg Dyke (oh and me!) in Manchester in March.
It will launch the new University of York North West Alumni Association, he is Chancellor of York and it's an institution close to my heart – it has produced so many people in media and politics. Indeed Dan Hewitt, ITV Granada’s political correspondent, studied at York as I did and now we work on ‘Party People’. We’ve established a great list of patrons and a dynamic committee, so it’ll be a good ‘kick off’ event.
I’m working with the universities of York, Sheffield and Leeds on the new White Rose College for the Arts and Humanities which launches in the spring and has just won considerable funding.
It’ll be a fascinating night with Greg and may make a headline or two; he seems to do that everywhere he goes.
You were a judge in 2013 for the Prolific North Awards - how good were the entries?
High. I loved seeing Lancashire Life pick up an award. Every one of the judges thought such publications must surely be dead or on the web. We’ve subsequently lost the Liverpool Daily Post. But no, they changed their business model, played to their strengths and those magazines could teach a lot of people a lot about surviving recession and about flexing to meet the new demands of technology and their audience.
I think Prolific North should consider a masterclass on how the regional and local media can survive, especially in the face of experiences in the capital with the Evening Standard and in the US. It’s a vital issue as the Liverpool Echo launches a Sunday edition. The Standard is claiming more than 1.7m readers yet you can’t buy it and only pick it up near Tube stations?
It was great to see the enthusiasm for the awards on the night and the entries displayed innovation, competitiveness and creativity. That’s good for a media sector which will become even more important to the region in the next 10 years. I’m honoured to be asked back but can Jim Hancock open with a 10-minute routine worthy of David Letterman? That would be fab!
We should gift wrap some of these companies and some of the North’s creativity and showcase abroad and in London. An expo of the North after or during July’s International Business Festival in Liverpool should be on the cards.
What does 2014 hold for you?
God laughs at people who make plans, so here goes: the political agenda is going to be fascinating and we will hope to reflect that as it intensifies around the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election through to the Europeans and General in 2015.
I have some very exciting TV projects on the move and am very keen to start a musical one with the very talented TV and movie composer Mark Russell (Cold Feet, Walking with Dinosaurs, Kingdom) as soon as he can free himself from the Beeb, where he’s working flat out on projects such as ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ and a brand new project for Lime in Liverpool. It’s a very unusual project but he’s so hot at the moment we may have to kidnap him from his own studio to get him to focus on this new departure for him!
We are old friends and last worked together in 1996 when we united the Halle and RLPO for the first ever time to mark Granada’s 40th birthday.
That and some exciting North West companies are keeping me busy and who knows maybe we will sit back and see if Hasgrove 2 could work in 2014 and 2015 – any takers?
I will keep you posted on www.robmcloughlin.com.