In all the farrago about Media Square I’d forgotten Kelvin MacKenzie was once briefly the boss

Exhumations are continuing into the demise of UK marcoms group Media Square, with Bob Willott of Financial Services Marketing Intelligence laying out the company’s series of disastrous deals (most notably buying a job lot of unwanted companies from PR group Huntsworth in 2005 for £63m, in cash of all things) and the new management of phoenix company MSQ saying it wasn’t their fault, guv.

Shortly after the disastrous Huntsworth deal former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie was installed as chairman of Media Square, probably the most bizarre choice among the many colourful characters who came and went at Media Square. MacKenzie, supposedly Rupert Murdoch’s favourite editor, had spent 14 unarguably successful years as editor of the tabloid although even Murdoch eventually tired of his excesses, most notably the Hillsborough football disaster in 1989.

The Sun’s coverage of this was venomous against Liverpudlians (96 fans died, mostly Liverpool supporters, and hundreds were injured. MacKenzie compounded his sins by refusing to apologise. The Sun still sells few copies on Merseyside.

MacKenzie was then shunted off to Murdoch’s BSKyB (like another ex-Murdoch editor, Andrew Neill of the Sunday Times) but then joined tabloid rival publisher the Mirror Group’s fledgling digital TV station Live TV. Here he caused complete chaos, feuding with fellow hack Janet Street-Porter and introducing shows like Topless Darts and the weird and not very wonderful News Bunny. Live TV closed, inevitably.

If ever a man needed a winner it was MacKenzie and he found one when he headed a consortium that bought radio station Talk Radio from CLT in November 1998. The bid was bankrolled by MacKenzie’s old chum Murdoch’s News Corporation. Talk Radio eventually became TalkSport, acquired some local radio stations and was bought by Northern Irish ITV broadcaster UTV for a chunky £98m in 2005.

At which point MacKenzie began the second round of his business career. First stop was struggling trade publisher Highbury House (which also published lads’ mag Front for some reason) into which MacKenzie sank about £1m of his own money. Alas, the owner of Practical Woodworking failed to fly and MacKenzie was soon the lookout for another opportunity. Which turned out to be Media Square.

This doesn’t seem to have worked out either (clearly Media Square as a whole didn’t but how much MacKenzie had to do with it is unclear) and our Kelvin decided that business wasn’t for him any more and succeeded in reinventing himself as a newspaper columnist, first on the Sun and currently at the Daily Mail. He has recently been entertaining us at the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics.

Anyway, it’s pretty clear that MacKenzie was a bizarre choice to head Media Square. Clearly the judgement of the directors and shareholders was a little awry at this point (more than a little with the Huntsworth deal) and for some time afterwards as it tried to continue on an acquisition path even as evidence mounted that the most of the companies it bought (not all of them) were turkeys.

Can the new management of MSQ, headed by former Media Square bosses Peter Reid (pictured) and Roger Parry, do any better than the old lot, which includes them of course? As Bob Willott points out (see above), they’re remarkably lucky to get the chance as Media Square collapsed in December owing £59m.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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