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Advertising Age: MediaWorks - Media People

John Billett Reveals What U.S. Media Taught Him

Dean of British Media Shares Lessons He Learned in Lauded 41-Year Career

By Brooke Capps

Published: AdAge April 30, 2007

John Billett, former chairman of Billett Consultancy, will leave his post this week. Mr. Billett brought his advertiser-media-services company to the U.S. in 2002.

Though it had British pedigree, he was determined that Billetts -- as it is popularly known -- would be a thoroughly American shop.

"I was trying to make an American company that chewed gum, that talked about third base, that knew what a first down was," he said. Before he jumped on a plane to practice his golf swing in Portugal, Advertising Age caught up with Mr. Billett to find out what he's learned about media planning and buying in America. ...

Advertsing Age:You've been in the media business for 41 years. You've been a media director, had an independent planning and buying outfit and created Billetts, a marketing-effectiveness company in Europe and an advertiser-media-services company in the U.S. Was there ever a guiding principal?

John Billett: There is one absolutely driving force over 41 years, which is: Answer the question before the client asks it. Usually people believe the client is always right. I don't subscribe to that. But I do subscribe to the fact that we're only here because of the clients. So you have to do everything that you can to destroy internal divisions, internal bureaucracies, private power games. Everything that you do within the organization has got to be pared down so that everybody focuses on answering the clients' questions before they ask them. That I've believed for years and years. It was the passion driving more cost effectiveness in marketing.

AA: Your expertise spans two continents. Is there one market that seems to have it all figured out?

JB: I don't think there is one market that stands head and shoulders above the rest. It is absolutely the case that one of the reasons for the accelerating performance of digital and internet trading is because it's the commercial communication conduit that's the most measurable. People ask, "Why is the internet moving ahead quickly in some countries?" It is fundamentally because it has measurability right through its core. ... To be fair, many Americans are getting it big time. Many haven't even reached the starting gate. One fact I have used on several occasions: Take a simple thing like network TV and you make comparisons of the prices that people pay for the same spots on the same day. The networks are successfully charging some people $130 and with other people paying $70. When we started in America, we had no idea it was that big of a spread. And that spread is not sustainable. Many advertisers didn't know that was the case.

AA: What are the core lessons you've learned about working in America?

JB:There is a division in America -- which I haven't seen elsewhere -- between entrepreneurial, creative, imaginative, not afraid to investigate change, looking for the next opportunity, dynamic and rigorous companies, and the disturbingly large number of companies who aren't that. They seem to be covered in bureaucracy, those who seem to be reluctant to change ... driven by process where everything is taken by committee. If I had one criticism of America, it would be that some decisions take an unseemly amount of time to be made. It is as though Sarbanes-Oxley, Enron, all of this corporate governance, has gripped the flare of certain companies so the prize of getting it wrong is larger than the prize of getting it right.

AA: What's next?

JB: There's still something left. ... I would like to perhaps have an association with one of the younger, new-media operations; not because I can show them much about new media, but I can show them a great deal about how to develop a business .



Michigan State University US   Media Communications Course June 2008

MSU review of the course presentation by John Billett "25 Things we know about what we don't know about Marketing Effectiveness"

"A particular task is harnessing advertising to a prosperous broadcasting system which can then be expected to deliver high quality product is to help advertisers place their messages in the most advantageous positions. The senior executive in this field John Billettcovered a very broad scope in his talk explaining the principles of effective placement of advertising both in the established areas of broadcasting and the emergent field of the internet; he also touched on where operations of the market might function to some extent on skilled advocacy rather than on a scientifically rigorously proven connection between deployment and effect."  (Source Dr.M Wober July 2008)


Jeremy Lee Campaign February 18th 2011

Disappearance of Billetts name marks a sad day for media

"In more ways than it probably realises, the media industry is lucky that people like John Billett have never really gone away; whether it like it or not, he can still be found gazing half-skywards, jowls aquiver, pontificating on pretty much any subject and on any platform that will have him.


Equally, the fact that even elderly millionaires like him find it difficult to disengage with the maschinations and minutiae of the media industry is testament to what a compellingly dynamic and interesting industry it can be. So I'll admit to a pang of nostalgia when I heard that the Billetts  brand name is being dispensed with in favour of that of its parent comp-any, Ebiquity.


Billetts was bought by the media monitoring company Thomson Intermedia which later adopted the Ebiquity name, in 2005 but, such was the power of the Billetts name, it remained a stand alone brand even after Billett left in 2007. Much of the power of this brand was built around the cult of its pompous (and occasionally infuriating) but ultimately loveable founder.


And now it is disappearing in favour of a rather dull and clunky corporate neologism taht may well better reflect the integrated data-driven insights that Ebiquity offers, but it all seems like the end of an era. Legend has it that new starters at the media agency CIA Billett were greeted by the great man with an outstretched hand with the mantra delivered in his distinctive loud and ponderous way "Billetts the name media's the game"


While it was easy to snigger behind his back, few people managed to play their hand as well as Billett, whose business was built on his audacity, chutzpah, showmanship and sweat. He also added some colour to an aspect of the industry- media monitoring - where it was sorely lacking and, thank God, continues to do so albeit in a more limited fashion.


In typical modest fashion, Billett's own personal website describes him as having "a track record as a leader; as a creator of business; as an entrepreneur...delivering successful in demand business operations.. and added value for shareholders". He's right.

You also find on his web site John's Desert Island Discs, including Treasures of English Church Music and Rachmaninoff Vespers. You wont find these treasures on Ebiquity's web site.


While Billett continues to keep his hand in for the time being, and on a practical level, the disappearance of the Billetts brand name is likely to make very little difference to Ebiquity's business, I feel that a tiny bit of media's heritage is in danger of being erased when it should be cherished"