Mike Yershon

The Work Of Mike Yershon By Dave Trott

The following articles are taken from Campaign Magazine

Dave Trott  - March 17, 2016

Dave Trott - March 17, 2016

Grounds were miserable, old-fashioned, dilapidated, mainly all standing.

Fewer and fewer people were going to matches.

And games had to be played at 3 o’clock on Saturday afternoons.

That was unquestionable, for every club in the country.

But they desperately needed a way to get some money into the dwindling game.

Mike Yershon was the most influential media guy in town.

Mike was a game changer.

So The Football League asked him to a meeting to find a way they could raise more money from the TV companies.

Mike’s recommendation was simple and powerful.

But also complete heresy.

Mike said put live football on TV.

He said if they allowed some games to be played on Friday nights and some on Sunday afternoons they could sell the rights.

They could get ITV and BBC to bid against each other to drive the price up.

The Football League would make a fortune.

So how did they react to Mike’s idea?

The President threw Mike out of the meeting.

Moving matches away from 3pm Saturday was unthinkable, impossible.

And broadcasting live matches was suicide.

Why would anyone go to a cold, wet, miserable stadium when they could sit at home and watch the match on telly?

The stadiums would be empty.

He said Mike was crazy and his advice would kill football.

They couldn’t get him out of the building fast enough.

But then a strange thing happened.

When Mike got back to his office, the phone was ringing.

They asked him to come back to the meeting.

It seemed they had decided to over-rule the President.

Football was slowly dying and it had to raise money or else.

Mike’s advice might be the only way.

So Mike went back to the meeting and explained his plan.

The bidding process went ahead: BBC won Friday night matches and ITV won Sunday afternoon matches.

So, in the event, who was proved right: Mike or the President?

Did live matches on TV mean empty stadiums and the end for football?


In fact the live matches acted as advertisements for football.

People began returning to the stadiums.

And the money from the TV deals went into the game.

In 1983 the rights to live football sold for £5 million.

By 1988 they were up to £44 million.

In 1992 Sky paid £304 million.

And in 2015 Sky and BT paid £5 BILLION for the rights to live football.

That’s £10 million for each game.

In 1997 Manchester United opened their own TV channel, now most clubs have their own TV channel.

Football grounds are now so packed that season tickets are usually the only way to get in.

And there’s a waiting list years long for those season tickets.

Football is far and away the biggest, richest game in the country.

Largely because Mike Yershon did what he was told he wasn’t allowed to do.

He changed things that he was told couldn’t be changed.

You see it’s an uncomfortable truth for all of us, particularly clients.

You can’t change things without changing them.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three

Dave Trott  - June 09, 2016

Dave Trott - June 09, 2016

One evening many years ago, I was in the BMP creative department.

A very stressed head of media came round.

He said: "Dave, I can’t find anyone else to ask, do we want to buy a million pounds of 48-sheet posters?"

I said I dunno, it depends, what client are they for?

He said: "I don’t know yet, but I just got a phone call: Mike Yershon is buying up all the 48-sheet posters. If we don’t buy now we’ll miss out. I need an answer quick."

He didn’t need to say who Mike Yershon was.

Everyone knew he was the best media director in town at the best agency in town, CDP.

Mike did things other people hadn’t thought of yet, and the rest of us just had to try to catch up later.

Now Mike was buying every 48-sheet poster he could get his hands on.

And our head of media thought we should buy them too, just because Mike was doing it.

For people who don’t remember, before Mike Yershon there weren’t any 48-sheet posters.

Except for a few special sites, all posters were 16-sheets: smaller, upright posters.

That all changed when Mike Yershon went to CDP.

They were launching the Ford Capri II and wanted to make it a really special event.

So instead of running a 30-second TV commercial (as most agencies would), they chose to run a two-and-a-half-minute commercial.

No-one had ever done anything like that before.

And instead of single-page ads (like most agencies would), they chose to run double-page spreads.

Mike saw the DPS and immediately said: "That shape suits the car better, let’s do the posters the same shape."

Mike knew the poster owners had begun experimenting with putting three 16-sheet posters together to form a single 48-sheet poster.

So he ordered 4,000 of the new 48-sheet posters.

Which meant they had to find many thousands of 16-sheet posters to put together.

It was a logistical nightmare.

But when it was done, it was a massive success.

In fact, Mike got two of his clients, Gallaher and Whitbread, to agree to CDP starting a company specialising in 48-sheet posters.

But Gallaher also had JWT as an agency, so they asked CDP and JWT to start the new poster company together.

They called the company Portland.

They had a staff of 16 going around the country checking out poster sites.

None in bad condition, none badly lit, none down back alleys, none with trees in front, none facing the wrong way.

Only the best poster sites were good enough for Portland.

Which helped make CDP’s work more attractive than anyone else’s.

Which helped make CDP more attractive to new business.

Which helped make CDP the best agency in the world.

Which is why years later, when Sir Martin Sorrell bought JWT, he also bought CDP’s share of Portland.

He renamed it Kinetic, and today it’s the biggest outdoor media company in the world.

All because Mike Yershon understood media better than anyone else.

Media isn’t about the number of impressions you make.

Media is about the power of the impression you make.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.

Dave Trott  - November 09, 2017

Dave Trott - November 09, 2017

When I started in advertising, commercials were either 30 or 15 seconds long. Everyone liked writing 30s, but nobody liked doing 15s. You couldn't fit much in - 15s were a pain. 

Then, in 1976, the rules changed.

Suddenly 15s changed to 20s, which was a much better length for us.

I never knew why it changed until recently.

To start with, you have to understand how the old system worked.

The UK was divided up into different commercial TV regions.

Programmes ran nationally, so these regions all had to have the same-length ad breaks.

Even though they often had different ads.

For instance, if the ad break was five minutes long, each station would have to fill the break with exactly five minutes of ads.

Obviously, their job was easier if the ads were all 30s because they fitted together more easily.

Putting a break together was like fitting all the pieces together in Tetris.

Awkward lengths like 15 seconds were a pain, so companies preferred to sell longer lengths.

Mike Yershon was head of media at Collett Dickenson Pearce.

Mike was a really creative person.

Among its clients, CDP had a single Reckitt & Colman brand, Supersoft.

It was worth about £200,000 (around £2.5m today).

But all Reckitt & Colman’s other brands were at a lot of other, bigger agencies.

And together they added up to £4.8m (more than £60m today).

Mike wanted to get the media buying for the entire lot.

And he found two numbers that proved the key to him doing just that.

The cost of a 15-second commercial was 70% the cost of a 30.

But in London, at Thames TV, the cost of a 60-second spot was 150% the cost of a 30.

That meant if Mike bought a 60-second spot and ran three 20-second ads in it, he’d get three 20-second spots for less than the cost of three 15-second ads.

Which meant he could give Reckitt & Colman 25% more media, at no extra cost.

Which would be like saving more than £1m (around £13m today).

And they’d be running 20-second ads instead of 15-second ones.

Of course, 20 seconds wasn’t the industry standard, but Thames TV didn’t care.

Because its job was easier if you bought longer-length ads.

What you put in it was up to you.

So Mike could run a 40 and a 20, or three 20s in that spot – whatever he wanted.

Mike was the only person in advertising to see this.

And Thames TV agreed to let him do it for Reckitt & Colman, so Mike and CDP won all its media-buying business.

Meanwhile, the rest of advertising was still stuck doing 15-second ads.

None of us knew why CDP could run 20-second spots while the rest of us had to run 15s.

The truth was, no-one else had the imagination Mike had.

Eventually, he presented the case to all the TV companies and everything changed.

Twenty-second spots became an industry standard.

At the time, I didn’t know all that – I just remember being glad to get rid of 15-second ads.

We could finally write a decent spot in 20 seconds, and advertising got better.

Creativity isn’t just about the creative department.

Real creativity can come from anywhere.

And that’s how a media guy improved advertising by thinking creatively. •

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.

Dave Trott  -November 30, 2017

Dave Trott -November 30, 2017

In 1973, Mike Yershon was offered the job of media director at CDP.

Mike had a reputation as the best media guy in town, so he wanted a lot of money.

He was amazed when CDP agreed to pay it.

On his first day at his new job, he asked to see the agency reel.

After he’d seen it, he knew why CDP agreed to pay the money.

He loved the reel – it was the funniest, wittiest, classiest reel of work he ever saw.

But he’d never seen any of those ads before.

It was obvious why CDP needed him.

They were doing great work, but the work wasn’t getting seen.

Although, as Mike investigated the media, he found the work was getting seen.

It was just getting seen by the wrong people.

The typical, unquestioning, buy-it-by-the-numbers industry convention was to buy eyeballs.

CDP had been spending money getting the biggest number of people to see the ads.

But there’s a difference in the quality of eyeballs.

The fastest way to get the numbers up was to spend the money where most people watched: soap operas and daytime TV.

But it didn’t occur to anyone to ask what sort of eyeballs watched those programmes.

Which meant CDP’s ads were being seen by older people, retired people, unemployed people: couch potatoes, in fact.

Mike knew straight away it was a waste of money.

You didn’t want couch potatoes, you wanted the opposite.

You wanted the people who were too busy to regularly watch daytime TV or soap operas.

What you actually wanted was light viewers.

Light viewers were working during the day so they didn’t watch soap operas – in fact, they often didn’t get home until late.

They were fussy what they watched – they didn’t watch a lot of TV, just the best stuff.

By buying light viewers, Mike got fewer eyeballs.

But the eyeballs he did get were much more influential, they were opinion-formers.

Suddenly these opinion-formers began seeing CDP’s work and it became famous.

Lots of the people running large client companies were light viewers too, so they’d never seen CDP’s ads before.

Suddenly they saw them and decided they wanted advertising like that for their brands.

Mike’s "light viewer" strategy had a massive influence on CDP’s new-business results.

It turned out that lots of people in the media – journalists, broadcasters, editors – were light viewers, too.

When they began to see CDP’s work, they loved it and helped make it go viral.

Which also had another effect.

Ordinary viewers began to see CDP’s brands advertising in all the best programmes.

This changed the context, which changed the image of the brands.

Mike had discovered the difference between signalling and targeting.

Although he didn’t call it that.

Currently, in digital, targeting is considered everything.

Targeting relies on identifying the consumer and hitting them as often as possible.

But this ignores the context the ads run in.

And consequently it smacks of cheapness, and of desperation.

It certainly doesn’t send out the best signal about the brand, the way having it seen in the best context would.

And worse, with the advent of programmatic it’s not even humans buying the eyeballs, it’s algorithms.

You’d think we would have learned the lesson from Mike all those years ago.

The difference between signalling versus targeting.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.