“In our ITV Studios brand positioning we talk about ‘delivering the unexpected every day’. I think that gives our team permission to try new ideas - to really push the bar in terms of creativity. We are a TV business. TV shows rely upon ideas and creativity that are going to make people watch them.” 

LGC: You've worked with a number of businesses before settling at ITV. You've been Marketing Director at The Walt Disney Company, you have been Head of Global Marketing at BBC Studios, you've been part of the Board – and now a Fellow of – The Marketing Society. You’re currently CMO at ITV Studios for the benefit of our readers, I'd like to know, how did it all begin? 

Adrian Last (AL):  I was really interested in radio and TV from a very young age. And that love for media has continued throughout my life. It has really driven my decisions in terms of the types of companies that I've worked with. I always wanted to be a radio DJ or presenter – but as we all know – that’s a hard industry to break into. An A level Business Studies teacher really inspired me and encouraged me to explore marketing. 

It got me thinking: “what if I could combine my love of radio and TV with marketing”, that felt like the absolute dream. I believe that all marketers should have a base level of knowledge and technical understanding about marketing, so in my Business Studies degree I specialised in marketing, and did a placement in a marketing agency. 

After graduating, I was living in Kent and I saw that the ‘local-to-me’ Maidstone Studios had advertised for a new Programme Secretary. It wasn’t the marketing role I had been trained to do, but it was in a studio complex working for a TV company, called the Family Channel. 

The Family Channel was one of only six Satellite TV Channels back then. It was fantastic - it wasn't a secretarial job at all, it was actually a great combination of PR and working with promo producers, providing support for them. And in the 1990s, it was relatively easy to get coverage for TV programmes, because there were still only five main channels and they were terrestrial. It was thanks to this job that I got my grounding in TV, and also in PR.

My next role was at Challenge TV – I have very fond memories of helping with the launch - with all the quiz show royalty of the time. I did PR there and then was given the opportunity to cross into marketing. That’s where I started to cut my teeth on marketing experience in business. 

After a short break for some travelling, I worked at the publishers, Dorling Kindersley, (or DK as it's known now). And then an opportunity came up with the Walt Disney Company: it was 2000, and I was asked to work on the marketing of what was, at the time, a new kind of television called: ‘Video On Demand’. I was working with these VOD partners in terms of how Disney’s content could best work on their platforms. 

Video On Demand - for those that don't know - is essentially another way of describing streaming. These days we all stream TV and films - but back then it was a very new thing and Disney was at the forefront. During my 10 years with Disney, I moved between roles and combined PR, publicity and marketing, working with colleagues and partners around the world.

Back in the 00’s, while working on The Disney channel’s new streaming offer, Adrian meets Mickey Mouse.

I have so many brilliant memories of my time at Disney.  Great friends and colleagues, and really smart people.  We were all fortunate to be work on global hits including Greys Anatomy, Lost and Desperate Housewives, and many other much-loved Disney shows and films.  Touring some of the actors and production talent were real highlights. 

For most of my time there, I was working on campaigns to support bringing progamme partners on board and then working with them to ensure the launches were successful. This also saw me sharpening my b2b skills supporting a sales business that was very profitable. I had to use my full marketing knowledge, driving b2b customers through our funnel: there was a need for increased awareness and consideration and then ultimately conversions handled by the sales team. 

While still at Disney, I then moved roles to work on franchise and brand management, which again, is what Disney does best. The brand management skills and experience that I acquired at Disney was formative. It was a fantastic grounding especially when combined with my technical training back at university, and also my further training with the Chartered Institute of Marketing. Some of the titles I marketed included feature films and Disney Channel shows - I remember working on ‘High School Musical’ and ‘Hannah Montana’ – among others. 

Next, I went and worked for BBC Studios - or BBC Worldwide as they were called at the time. They needed a Head of Global Marketing to lead on their big brands and TV shows. It was a great role. Digital marketing was still in its relative infancy and I enjoyed experimenting by setting up the digital marketing function within that team. We had a great creative team, incredible content and freedom to be ambitious in our ideas and thinking 

It was a brilliant roll because it gave me the opportunity to reset what that marketing team did. And that's something personally that I love to do: ensuring the marketing team is totally aligned with the business’ commercial targets and the sales team. 

My marketing team at BBC Studios was creating a lot of really good work – but the metrics and ROI were lacking. By introducing the digital marketing piece, we actually found new ways of reaching our audiences. It was very successful. We used the data that our campaigns reaped - which back in those days was still in its relative infancy - to inform some of the decisions that we were making. It was a successful time, working with great shows, great talent both on screen and off screen - amazing producers, writers and directors: it set a standard that I’ve been lucky to maintain throughout my career. 

I was enjoying my time there and wasn't particularly looking to move on to another role, but I got a phone call from a company representing ITV Studios who said that Rufus Radcliffe, ITV’s Group Marketing Director was looking for a Director of Marketing for ITV Studios. They wanted to know if I would be interested. I looked at their marketing from the outside and thought there was a real opportunity. 

ITV Studios’ ‘Mr.Bates vs The Post Office’ saw the drama drive public and political debate in the UK.

Back then in 2012, ITV Studios was a very solid and reputable business. It was also clear that they were in a real growth phase.  Rufus was bringing together a new management team, and the opportunity to build my team and vision from the ground up was a very compelling thing.  The ITV Studios business has grown significantly over the 12 years that I've been there. Being part of that leadership team, I’ve been part of driving that growth, conceiving plans and ideas that build our brand value right across the world. A data-led, creatively ambitious approach, finding new and innovative ways of standing us at the front of a very long line of competitors.  I love it - from marketing our programmes worldwide, to building engagement and monetization opportunities in the many social media channels we have across the business. 

Right now, like many others in the marketing industry, one of the things we're focused on is ‘fandom’ - how to build and engage more fans across our key Studios brands. Over the last couple of years, we’ve really worked hard on the role of social media marketing and it is proving successful.

In my 12 years at ITV, there have been some really great times, working with a fantastic group of people in my teams and right across our global business. ITV Studios is an extraordinary place to work. There’s an incredible culture: it's collaborative, it's challenging, it’s creatively ambitious. We want our people to feel like they have the freedom to deliver the unexpected every day. 

LGC: My desktop research has pulled out the following stats: ITV Studios delivered record revenues and profits in 2023. You saw organic revenue growth of 5% last year. Shows on your roster include: ‘Mr. Bates Versus The Post Office” - the biggest new drama in over a decade; Squid Game - The Challenge, Love Island – whose format has now sold to 27 countries. And ‘My Mum, Your Dad’ sold to 10 countries. All super-impressive. What does 2024 look like for you in terms of growing and maintaining the ITV Studios brand?

AL: The remit here is broad and large. ITV has been in the lives of the UK population for nearly 70 years. As a set of channel brands, including our streaming service ITVX, and as an advertising commercial sponsorship business – it has been incredibly successful. 

ITV Studios has over 90,000 hours of programming in the catalogue; there are 60 Production labels, producing TV in 13 countries. The thing that I find exciting is that we can all talk about the fantastic shows that ITV Studios produces for ITV - but there's a whole range of programmes that ITV Studios produces for other networks. 

ITV Studios’ ‘Love Island’ franchise continues to be sold around the world.

It’s hard to pick a favourite from such a vast catalogue – we produce such a large range of content for channels and streamers from The Voice to Love Island, Queer Eye to One Piece.  One of the successes during my time here is The Graham Norton Show, produced by So Television, part of the ITV Studios family - many people will know it as a cornerstone of the BBC. That show continues to be incredibly successful all around the world. That’s where our model really works. The show is commissioned by the BBC in the UK from So Television, and then it's sold around the world. It has proved extremely popular in the US on BBC America - and in many other markets too. 

 ‘One Piece’, the Netflix Japanese anime series, is also at the top of its game: season 1 clocked up 38 million views around the world. That is made by Tomorrow Studios’, also part of the ITV Studios family. These are key ‘products’ for my marketing team to work on. And I think that's what makes the job exciting. In many companies, you're working with a small range of products. Here we are working with many thousands. 

As you mentioned, our annual results in 2023, were very positive: revenue growth, profit growth and all of this against the challenging economic times that we all face. We’re lucky that people will always watch TV shows, but in tough economic conditions where budgets are tight, and often reduced, marketing is one of the teams within the business that really has to step up. 

We have to ensure that global awareness for our shows is high. Our job is to make sure that amongst our very challenging competitive sets, our shows are front of mind. Where buyers and customers have tighter or even frozen budgets, our job is to ensure that they still consider ITV Studios first, both from a commissioning perspective, and for buying our incredible content. 

Thus 2024 has a number of challenges: our budget has to work harder. Firstly, we have to come up with creatively ambitious ideas. Secondly, we have to continue using and evolving our data so that we really understand our customers: what they want - and how we most effectively match that need with what we're producing. We’re focused on hyper-personalisation and how we can ensure that the data is enabling us to be really targeted in our marketing.  The third thing is that we need to make sure that we provide compelling brand experiences. Our flagship event is ‘The ITV Studios Festivals. It's part of an important and growing week in the global media industry where hundreds of buyers and industry execs come to London and screen our new programmes. 

The ITV Studios Festival champions shows from the company’s partner production companies.

It takes us six months to deliver this event – and each year we challenge ourselves to raise the bar higher again. It’s a credit to my team – we’re a bunch of like-minded individuals trying to be creatively more ambitious and deliver something even more compelling than the last edition. Everyone has bought into that concept that our brand experiences have to reach our customers in the most compelling and engaging way. 

LGC: Your marketing team: how is it organised and structured? 

AL: Actually it’s a comparatively small team of people who are driven, focused experts and work incredibly hard every day to deliver value to the ITV Studios business. My B2B content marketing teams are tightly aligned with our sales teams, driving awareness and consideration that supports the conversions to sale. They consistently build best-in-class, world-leading campaigns, which really bring the programmes to life. 

The way our brand planning works on these programmes, is that we know that we need to recoup costs, and we need to get the production to a profitable position. Absolutely key is – for example - understanding the drama, for example – what it is about and how we can best launch it. This has to be balanced with maintaining the creative vision of the writer, the director and the producer. Really understanding the ‘product’ is key. From there we build out the end to end marketing plan that supports the sales team on their mission to convert our work into a series of sales – as they sell to broadcasters and streaming providers around the world. Then we’re working with partners on launch plans in key markets across the world, to build long-term value.

Most of our focus is in B2B, and increasingly there’s a growing DTC piece.  This team lead on our ‘FAST’ channel marketing, our digital consumer offering and our branded products, attractions, gaming and retail marketing.

My Brand Experiences team are the best in the business - doing a fantastic job on our events, industry markets and the experience our customers have with our brands. We also have 2 digital teams – a product team who lead on our websites and apps, and a CRM team who manage customer data and digital communications: being able to operate with a data-led, performance marketing mindset is just as important for us at ITV Studios as it is for everybody else. 

Our Social Studio comprises a collective of social marketing experts delivering editorial, engagement and monetization opportunities across B2B channels (for our global ITV Studios brand) and our key programme brands. If you think about the audiences who love all the different versions of Love Island, The Voice, I’m A Celebrity, Hell’s Kitchen and many other key ITV Studios brands, we need to ensure we’re building fandom and engagement which the team spends a lot of time doing.

Finally, sitting over the top of all that, we have a brand team who’s remit is an annual plan that delivers best-in-class work to ensure ITV Studios gets industry people talking about us right across the world.  They manage brand perception and building brand value – really important to spend time thinking about how we show the world the scale of the business, and working with our 60 labels and commercial businesses to showcase them in a really high profile way.

ITV Studios’ marketing team support productions with direct-to-consumer product marketing.

LGC: It’s super-impressive that your relatively small team achieve so much - considering the hundreds of productions that you are marketing. 

AL: You can fill up organisations with marketing people who do brilliant things but are not aligned to the commercial business in the way that they should be. I believe that ‘keeping it lean’ drives a certain set of behaviours. With our talented team, we’re able to choose our marketing tactics and launch campaigns that support achieving the profit numbers that we're targeting.

LGC: What have you learned in your career journey that enables you to get the best out of your marketing teams?

AL: Treating people as I want to be treated myself. I'm not hierarchical or super-corporate in my approach, and I’m really not very formal at all. So, I've always just been myself. We come to work with the same group of people every day, five days a week, for years. Some of these people have been valued members of my team for a very long time. I can't be anybody other than myself. That’s the way I've always worked with teams. And fortunately, it's always worked really well. 

I am also very aware, and often remind my team that I can't do this marketing job on my own. Always employ experts who can work together to deliver really exceptional work.  Everybody around me needs to believe in what we're doing and to deliver against a shared set of values, plans and ways of doing things. It’s fundamental. We all work very closely together.  I trained as a coach back in 2019 because I just love working with people and supporting them to do their best work, and I’ve really seen some brilliant results, not just from my team but other execs who I’ve coached.

At ITV Studios in the marketing team, we produce incredible work: the results speak for themselves. The growth of the business – and our brand worldwide – over the 12 years I’ve been there has been immense. And I genuinely believe the events we run and the marketing we deliver are arguably the best in the industry. I'm immensely proud of what the team has achieved - and the things that they continue to do every single day – all of which contributes to a brilliant end result.

LGC: How important is storytelling when maximising your customers engagement with a campaign?

AL: Storytelling in life - whether it’s our personal brand, our lives, or our campaigns – is key. From a customer perspective, at ITV Studios, it is absolutely vital. We are telling the story of the products - the programmes that our customers are buying or commissioning. And being able to tell them the story succinctly is key because people have access to the scripts or the rough cuts or the versions of the programme at different points in the buying process. 

In our marketing, we have to take our customers on a journey and narrate the story throughout the campaigns that we do. And that's across any type of media, it's whether it's our email marketing, or our CRM programme - our brand experience or the experience anyone might have on a virtual or physical basis with ITV Studios. 

It’s about making sure that when we're reaching people, we're reaching them with the key parts of the story, and that they see all of that story come together. We learn lots from our customers. Marketing insights are key to every decision we make: understanding what our buyers want and reacting to that is at the heart of what marketing is. Thus storytelling is also at the heart of our marketing. If you understand your customers really well, and you're able to adapt your product offering to that - then the storytelling is the next piece, as it enables us to craft incredible campaigns.

The global hit ‘Squid Game The Challenge’ - ITV Studios January 2024

LGC: On to the politics of marketing in bigger businesses, have you any tips on how to navigate the choppy waters of big business organisations, for example, where a considered marketing plan gets pushback from the C-suite or ‘upstairs’?

AL: All of the more senior roles that I have held came with the absolute necessity to build really solid, strong relationships across organisations. I've been fortunate over the years to work with a lot of smart, brilliant people, learning from them and being able to build really good relationships.  My advice would be to work on building those strong relationships: to be able to explain clearly, what marketing does and the value that it brings. 

In accounting terms marketing can be seen as a cost - but I prefer to see it as an investment. Investing in marketing should demonstrate the value of what marketers do in our industry. Work really closely with the finance team. Take the time to make sure that the CFO understands what it is that you and the rest of the team does and the value you bring to the business. Ensure that the leadership team buy into your strategy and the individual parts of your plan. 

The alternative to all of this is that marketing activities are done completely separately without the relevant buy in. That can result in chaos and disaster.  Engaging people is as important in your business as it is for your consumers and customers.

LGC: There seems to be a return to marketing diligence as opposed to ‘tactification’, which as Mark Ritson describes, is where marketers leapfrog research and strategy and head straight to their tactics, what message might you have for those tempted to do that?

AL: Don't do it. Some people seem to want to make marketing really complex. It doesn't need to be. The harder you make it for someone to understand, the more individuals around the organisation won't appreciate the value of what you're trying to do. 

Two years ago, we started an important piece of brand work for ITV Studios. We wanted to redefine our positioning and our brand promise. But we couldn’t do that without doing the groundwork.  The research.  This led to such a rich and diverse set of insights that it really supported the end outcome and how we presented this back to the business.  Our goal was to bring everybody together around a clear set of words and messaging that summarised ITV Studios – our reason for being. Now when we choose marketing tactics, we refer to these words.

So, insights are absolutely critical.  Similarly, strategy is also crucial, but to a point.  You see companies who have spent far too much time on their strategy and not enough time on the actual tactical execution. There has got to be a balance.  There is sometimes a moment where rushing straight to tactics is right, but on the whole decent planning aligned to KPIs and targets, delivers the right end result.

Ultimately, the right set of insights should provide you with your marketing rationale. If anyone challenges your strategy,  you can go back to the insights and show how they support your plan – which in turn hopefully makes buy in to your tactical plans a lot easier. 

Another important point about insight and strategy is that the marketing team need to understand that your chosen course of action is what the business needs to drive success. Everyone in the team must understand the trends that are affecting the business. This includes the trends that are affecting the marketing industry. The shared conclusions need to be felt and understood by everybody from the most senior person to the most junior apprentice that we've got in the team at the moment.

Next each team member needs to understand the part that they are playing to help deliver the agreed strategy in that annual plan. Otherwise - how do they know what they're aiming at? We all must be rigorously aligned to the targets of the business. 

Fantasy pirate adventure series ‘One Piece’ has attracted over 100million viewers.

LGC: How do you ensure clarity around your market orientation, specifically on competitor and customer insights and knowledge?

AL: We've got our brilliant internal global insights team. They spend a lot of time with various teams in the business, unpicking and unwrapping customer trends, industry trends, and marketing trends too. They produce excellent work that analyses customer and industry behaviour, the performance of our products (our TV programmes) and how our marketing is performing. 

This rich data informs our thorough understanding of the customer and provides us with the basis for our customer orientation. This helps us set a clear course to navigate our way through the challenges that the business is facing. 

LGC: How do you approach balancing the need for your communications to be memorable, and then the desire for risk taking? If there's a scale where 0 is no risk at all, and 100 is all out? Where are you and where's ITV Studios?

Great question. Where am I? Personally, I'm right up the end of the scale near 100, because I like to take risks in terms of creativity and ideas. Now that needs to be tempered with a very stark reminder that we have an aggressive set of financial targets that need to be reached if we are to remain a growth business. 

But I really believe that it's the creative and the ideas that set us apart from other marketing teams. There's a lot of talk in the marketing media about how many businesses are focusing again on long term brand building campaigns – memorable campaigns - because they have so much value to them. 

In our ITV brand positioning we talk about ‘delivering the unexpected every day’. I think that gives our team permission to try new ideas - to really push the bar in terms of creativity. We are a TV business. TV shows rely upon ideas and creativity that are going to make people watch them. 

The challenge for all of our production labels and our third party partners is: how do you continue to develop and produce new shows, new dramas, new entertainment series that audiences around the world are going to love and tune into? And to do that, it often results in taking risks and being creative.

LGC: I'm wondering what advice you might have for younger marketers that might be reading this interview? Imagine you're speaking to young Adrian, as you begin your career in marketing. What advice might you give him? With your experience, what would you recommend he does more of and what should he avoid?

AL: Be curious. Be interested. Be enthusiastic.  Love what you do.  It’s important in marketing. It's important in business. It’s important in life.  For me curiosity has meant that I’ve really understood the nuts and bolts of the business: how it makes money and what my role as a marketer and leader is within that. If you can get that right in the early stages of your career, it will serve you really well. 

I still find that there are a number of people working in marketing roles with no technical skills in marketing. That academic foundation is important. If you haven’t studied marketing, think about doing a course – Mark Ritson’s Mini MBA is excellent.  The Marketing Society and the Marketing Academy are great places to find events that expand your marketing knowledge, and meet people from the industry.  Go to events – I went to my first ‘Little Grey Cells’ event in January, and in 2 hours got some new perspectives and met many new people. In summary: One: be curious. Two: do the training. And three: enjoy it and embrace it for what it is because marketing should be an enjoyable job. It can be complex. It can be challenging. It can be stressful. But if we work really well together as a team, and we all enjoy the work that we're doing, and we challenge each other. Then that should be a brilliant place to work.

‘The Graham Norton Show’: ITV Studios’ flagship a-list celebrity chat show.

LGC: How do you go about balancing the need for longer term brand building and more short term sales activation-lead campaigns?

AL: There should always be elements of our annual plan that are long term and elements that are short term. The reality is that we've got annual targets to meet in the business. And sometimes you might have great plans but they absolutely need to be flexible and adaptable. 

In my DTC team, we work with a number of partners - particularly in the UK - on brands like Love Island, Coronation Street and I’m A Celebrity. These consumer-based retail propositions mean we have to be really flexible and agile, using data to flex and change our campaigns to meet targets, and finding creative, engaging ways of reaching consumers.

In essence a lot of this can be short term. In contrast, the long term is the strategy and brand campaigns for each of our show brands. Never rush the brand work. It takes time, and getting it right can take time. My team worked on Love Island for a number of years, gradually building the success story as part of a group of people across the business.

Branding is, simplistically, about consistency, distinctiveness and relevance.  We really see the value of following this ethos – how we can develop plans across multiple years to ensure that ITV Studios is adistinctive in the marketplace. At ITV Studios, we have a very clear brand promise. We've got a very distinct creative look and feel.  And we have invested in tone of voice and copywriting work over the last two years of which we are really seeing the results.  This will only increase over the long term.

LGC: If there's one thing you've learned about marketing, it is? 

AL: Happiness.  It may sound cheesy but I look at all the brilliant people I’ve worked with, all the incredible brands, programmes and products I’ve worked on, and the incredible scope of what I’ve done during my marketing career, and it’s filled with many happy moments.  Marketing is a fast-paced, hugely interesting and enjoyable industry.  We’re all fortunate to be part of it.


Adrian Last was interviewed by Tim Healey, CEO of Shoot 4 The Moon Marketing and Brand Management Agency, and curator of Little Grey Cells, the senior marketer breakfast meetup.

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