Posts By: hbiadmin

Editor’s blog: ITV, the search from hell

It’s hard to know where to start when considering the shambles that is ITV at the moment. The place is starting to appear like a de-masted and rudderless Ship of Fools adrift on the high seas, heaving around looking for both a captain and first officer to put a joint hand on the tiller.

Sir Michael Bishop looked like a good prospect for Chairman. He’s smart, he’s got media experience (having been Chairman of Channel 4 in the mid 90s), and he has a 223m cheque from the sale of his BMi stake to Lufthansa burning a hole in his pocket. So, time for some good works with some media luvvies, then. But after a sniff around, he came to the conclusion that the ITV board was so dysfunctional and the broadcaster’s situation so bleak that he’d rather spend a quiet Christmas having a few pina coladas in the Caribbean. (As BSKyB holds a massive ITV stake, the last thing the seeker-after-a-quiet-life will want is Rupert or James Murdoch on the phone every five minutes.) So Bishop, like Tony Ball the hard-man prospective CEO, dropped out of the running.

This means the latest round of opprobrium has been directed full and square at head-hunters Russell Reynolds, who have the task of finding both a new Chairman and CEO – and appear to have made a ghastly mess of it. And the agony isn’t over: they are back to square one, with everyone now waiting for them to make fools of themselves all over again.

The ITV job is a poisoned chalice. It may well net Russell Reynolds hundreds of thousands of pounds in fees, but it’s the search from hell. Not only is the organisation in a mess, in dire requirement of a new strategy, but the whole place (like so many media holes) leaks like a sieve. Thus the search has been an embarrassingly public affair, which headhunters don’t like unless they are controlling the leaking.

It doesn’t make sense to slag off the whole profession, though. Luke Johnson suggests that media head-hunting is a piece of cake because all the usual suspects know each other. But ITV needs someone a bit special coming from a new angle. Headhunters may be a funny old lot, but when they do their job well they are a useful resource. They bring knowledge of the sector, discretion, impartiality and – one would hope – some degree of wisdom to help a company hire the sort of individual it requires. They also provide a buffer between the company and the job market, and have to take the blame for failure.

To conduct a search without a specialised consultant would not be easy. What is a Chairman supposed to do – get out his Filofax and start ringing around a few mates? Invite the hottest prospects for a round at Wentworth? Of course, intrinsically any organisation ought to be able to do this for itself, but it just doesn’t work like that. It would be seen as unprofessional.

So after five months of flailing around the ITV search has to go on. Maybe they’ll have the ship crewed up before the end of the year at least. It has to be a great opportunity for someone to make his or her name as one of the best turnaround stars in media history.

Read more on Editor’s blog: ITV, the search from hell…

Editor’s blog: The limits of online advertising

It had to happen. Just as ITV writhes around in its prolonged death spiral, still searching for a new CEO and chairman, and Channel 4 falls out with its boss, along comes the headline that ‘the internet has now overtaken TV to become the biggest advertising sector in the UK’. A sign of the times (except that it’s not strictly true: print, although in steep decline, remains the largest advertising medium).

Last year’s record online spend of 1.75bn means that the UK is the world’s first major economy where advertisers have put more dosh online than on TV. The web has achieved this in little more than a decade, which is remarkable. But there’s quite a lot that needs unpicking here, not least the fact that ‘online’ contains so many separate facets: email, classified ads, display ads and vast quantities of search marketing (large chunks of which winds up in Google’s pocket).

Within these Internet Advertising Bureau figures sits the fact that online display ads such as banners actually fell by 5.2% year-on-year, to 316.5m. Just today I’ve come across two unbelievably irritating and obtrusive online display ads – one on the FT’s site and one on The Times’s – shrieking to be noticed like an intensely irritating kid in a class. And one of them has the dire cheek to be hiding behind a click where you expect to get editorial. Very naughty behaviour indeed, and their effect is to make me actively hostile towards their perpetrators.

The web’s success is also due to dire state of the economy. Downturns understandably make advertisers very cautious; they want very precisely directed marketing material that brings easily measurable results and ROI. Online promises a lot to the nervous and the thrifty, but doesn’t always deliver it.

The BBC – surprise surprise – has gone big on this story, and its website includes a feature about the ad agency that has just launched the new VW Golf Gti entirely online. Gone are the lovely 30-second telly and cinema VW ads of old – apparently there are no press spreads. Just an online racing game (which isn’t actually a game because it’s not interactive, and isn’t strictly speaking an ad because it’s hosted on the VW website).

All one helluva lot of fun, I’m sure. But I hadn’t previously seen it and, as a consequence, the launch has completely passed me by. I know media is necessarily fragmented these days, and I know I may not be the target audience for a GTi (I hear they’re a lot fatter, heavier and less fun than the old icons of the 80s). But what online advertising does less well – and I’d include banners in this – is build broad brand awareness. The GTi got to become the icon it is because of those skilfully crafted DDB TV ads of years back. Everyone saw them, everyone got and shared the message. But we’ll never get back to that because it’s too expensive and wasteful in the world of 21st century marketing.

Online is brilliant for job ads and outstanding for small ticket items in classified. But it’s not effective for everything. I’m not sure how good online is, for example, at luxury goods – those sorts of wildly expensive treats that have to be made to appear intensely desirable (beautifully presented press ads and posters can do this). Neither is it great at making things loveable. I know I keep banging on about the success of Compare the Market’s meerkat, but that had to be done by television (of course there’s now a website and the whole thing is ‘viral’).

In short the web is here to stay, will advance further and has made marketing an even more arcane and problematic art in the last decade. But neither TV nor print is quite dead yet.

Read more on Editor’s blog: The limits of online advertising…

Editor’s blog: The dangers of getting tough

Two examples in the last week of nice, cuddly companies turning a bit harder as they struggle to cut costs and increase revenue. M&S has placed a 35-day deadline on its legendary no-quibbles return policy, and British Airways is going to start charging for the privilege of choosing a seat number.

Of the two, I think that British Airways is on far dodgier ground. Being able to pick your seat and avoid a nasty Ryanair-style scrum-down as you race across the tarmac and sprint up the gangplank is one of the civilised things about using what used to be the world’s favourite airline, as opposed to the vulgar low-costies. It was part of the service. And, although there’s a war on, customers still like being looked after rather than treated like cattle. People will still pay for something that makes their life easier or more pleasant. Price isn’t everything.

BA knows it will earn them some desperately needed extra revenue, because no family with kids travelling from Heathrow to Sidney wants the parents in 22B and 68C with the youth in 41D and 65E. So that’s another 160 on the bill. But it leaves a bitter taste.

As for M&S – well, they can never do anything without causing an uproar. That’s both the upside and the downside of being Middle England’s beloved retailer. Earlier this year – and I’ve no doubt to Sir Stuart Rose’s mild amusement – they got involved in ‘bra wars’ when they tried to add 2 to the price of extra large garments. They played that one very nicely by admitting they’d ‘boobed’ (groan) and backed down. All very nice publicity that emphasized how caring, fair and thoughtful they are. (Seems to me that if your bra requires nine yards more fabric than the next woman’s then of course it should cost more. But what do I know?)

Anyway, the 35-day return deadline has caused much consternation. The Bucks Free Press quotes a distraught Shirley Read, aged 53, who tried to return a floral dress but was told no dice because she was too late. ‘I was so upset,’ she lamented. ‘I don’t want someone else to go through what I had to go through.’ Well, try a few days in Darfur or Helmand, Shirley. I mean, come on. M&S’s problem is that some people think it’s so nice that it’s a charity or a branch of the social services – which it clearly isn’t. But that sense is why a lot of folk still go there rather than Primark or Tesco.

The lesson is that you have much more to lose if you’re a nice company that turns slightly tough, as opposed to a tough company that suddenly does something nice. If you are nice, you need to tread very carefully when altering what you deliver to your customers – people miss something much more that they once enjoyed than something that was never there in the first place. In technical terms, BA needs to be very careful before trying to convert all its Pareto losses into hard cash. When a Ryanair stewardess actually smiled at my rampaging two year old barrelling down the aisle this summer I was little short of amazed. I’d expected an on-the-spot fine for misbehaviour.

Read more on Editor’s blog: The dangers of getting tough…

Editor’s blog: Vittorio Colao’s big idea

You need some nerve as a boss to admit that the 600 million you spend each year on marketing isn’t really working that well. With an admirable directness not frequently noted among Italians, Vodafone’s CEO Vittorio Colao thinks his whole brand and marketing requires a revamp. It is not the big power, said Colao of his new brand identity. It is not the power of top down. It is bottom-up power. It really means that Vodafone puts the customer at the centre of what we do. Never a bad starting point.

Vodafone started off with the tagline How Are you? which was a bit of a yawn, frankly. (Well, I’m fine, thanks and just happy with my contract with One2One.) Then it moved onto Make the Most of Now which had me dozing-off in its blandness. Now it’s ditching that as it plumps for the sizzling Power To you. Well, sorry, but the first thing that made me think of is Cliff’s Power to All Our Friends which even in his execrable litany of pap was enough to make you chuck.

But you have to feel sorry for Vodafone because they are faced with the familiar problem of making advertising travel and then earn its lunch across so many borders. Thus it winds up with slightly dismal lowest common denominator solutions. So it plasters its logo across sporting events from Bergen to Beijing and hopes for the best. And a fat lot of thanks it gets for its support. Vodafone once very kindly organised an interview for me with Surralex Ferguson at Manchester United which in organisational grief was like a cross between taking on the Taliban in the Swat valley and getting a class of seven year olds to cross the road. It showed in a nutshell how tortured the relationship can be between sponsor and the sponsoree. And if you think football is a difficult business to get into bed with then Formula One is an utter nightmare.

But the crux of the problem is that they actually spend too much. The problem with Vodafone marketing is that it’s everywhere – utterly ubiquitous. And like the air that you breath you just stop noticing it after a while and are grabbed by something more interesting. That’s the terror of modern marketing – out there in world of trillions of messages nobody can hear you scream.

Colao knows this and what he yearns for is for Vodafone to become sexy and desirable like Apple. (It would help if he were actually allowed to sell a few iPhones himself- the exclusivity contract with O2 is up shortly.) It could be done – Vodafone is a muscular brand with a lot of clout and amazing reach. But what he really needs is the Holy Grail of a great idea which cuts through the wall-to-wall noise of 21st century global marketing. That’s what he needs to put that big McKinsey-trained brain of his to work on finding.

Read more on Editor’s blog: Vittorio Colao’s big idea…

Editor’s blog: Poor old Kodak’s fall from grace

You have to feel some sorrow for poor old Kodak. For the last two decades, the only stories coming out of the venerable photographic company from Rochester New York, founded by George Eastman in 1888, have been tales of increasing woe. This summer they gave up producing their wonderful Kodachrome film, and now comes the news that they are in hock to KKR – not known as the most compassionate of pawnbrokers.

KKR is buying up to $400m of senior secured notes in Kodak, as the hapless photography company tries to shore up its dismal balance sheet (it’s also raising an additional $300m in convertible debt through a private placement, which will partly go towards paying off earlier debt). KKR – which gets two seats on the Kodak board – is also buying warrants that give it the right to buy up to 53m of Kodak’s 268m outstanding shares.

It’s hard to overstate the extent of Kodak’s fall from a position of global domination in its market. Kodak brought photography to ordinary people in the same way as Ford did cars. In encouraging ‘You push the button, we do the rest’, it was so successful that the verb ‘to Kodak’ was used to describe taking a picture as one uses ‘to Google’ today to describe an online search. It generated seas of cash, and as late as 1981, it enjoyed a $10bn turnover as folk all over the world used the vertically-integrated company to take its pictures. But like so many US leviathans, it just did not adapt to change fast enough. It thought the world owed it a living.

Now it’s been almost blown away by the digital firestorm, as kids just take pictures with their phones and don’t even know what photographic film is. Even digital cameras are on the sales slide. No wonder Kodak’s CEO Antonio Perez once described his job as being like standing on ‘a hot burning platform’.

Such is the extent of its woes, one wonders if Kodak can in fact survive (Polaroid didn’t). Sometimes the extent of the problems faced by organisations are just too vast for any strategic move to be effective, and the harsh reality of the evolutionary process kicks in. It’s doubtful if even the most brilliant and revolutionary management could have done anything but change the speed at which they headed for the Big Exit. Like the wooly mammoth or the dodo, maybe Kodak should just shuffle off its mortal coil and move on to a better place. Not before KKR has had its money back, though. Otherwise there will be hell to pay.

Read more on Editor’s blog: Poor old Kodak’s fall from grace…

Editor’s blog: The childishness of the cuts debate

There’s something unbelievably childish about the ‘cuts’ debate, and the refusal to be heard on-the-record using the ‘C’ word. It’s akin to not stepping on the cracks in the pavement, or that daft superstition held by actors never to call ‘Macbeth’ by its title but refer to ‘The Scottish Play’, lest they trip and fall down some stage trapdoor. Apparently the Prime Minister is actually going to allow the word to be heard passing his lips later today. Well, hey wow.

When you’re in hock to the tune of 175bn, there are going to have to be cuts. And like most cuts made by knives, paper or chainsaws, they are going to hurt. Cuts in public spending will take great chunks of cash out of the economy. And in some areas of this country, government cash forms getting on for 65% of the money sloshing around in what remains of the economic system. You can be sure taking some of this away will prove especially painful.

So how do you cut? With a pragmatic or an ideological scalpel? That’s the most interesting question. The message from the Conservatives is that government has run riot over the last twelve years and it’s going to take much more than tinkering at the edges to put things right. Everyone has his own hobby horse – an example of a dreadful waste of public funds. There is likely to be a good deal of blood-letting at the quangoes, which may not be entirely a bad thing. Beer at the House of Commons is going up in price.

But it’s the real big spenders that present the true challenge. Far tougher is trying to establish what on earth one can do with the appallingly swollen benefits budget, which now stands at 170bn. It is an intractable problem and was of a ghastly size even when the economy was motoring along. Now it has stalled, more are going to be reliant on the safety net provided by the state. So, it’s got to be done – but anyone who pretends that the process can be easy or painless is kidding themselves.

If I had my way I’d start with identity cards – a nonsense from the start – and then start looking very seriously at Trident. The days of believing that it’s vital we own nuclear warheads capable of being lobbed at an enemy and wiping out hundreds of thousands of people in one fell swoop are long gone. It’ll be a cheap radio-controlled drone that nails Bin Laden’s mates, not a billion pound ICBM.

Nor do I think the NHS should be sacrosanct. There is no logic whatsoever to the argument that an organisation with an annual budget of 120bn cannot do some belt-tightening without the need to fire any nurses or doctors. It now carries a spare tyre bureaucracy that would make weight-watchers swoon. Less nip/tuck, more gastric band…

Read more on Editor’s blog: The childishness of the cuts debate…

Editor’s blog: Putting the squeeze on the booze industry

I’ve been predicting for ages now that booze will replace tobacco as Public Health Enemy Number One – the drinks industry needs to ready itself for a sustained assault in the decade to come. The latest salvo came yesterday, with a call from the British Medical Association for a complete ban on all advertising and marketing of alcohol. The doctors are claiming that alcohol-related damage is especially prevalent among the binge-drinking young and that young people are being ‘thoroughly groomed into a behaviour which is extremely damaging to their health’. (Note the choice of verb which equates booze with predatory paedophiles.)

As you or I sit down of an evening for a quiet glass or two of Fleurie once the kids have gone to bed, we may feel this assault on our freedom to enjoy a drink is unacceptable. We all know the doctors are unlikely to be satisfied with a ban on marketing, if they were to achieve it. The Doctor State would be even more draconian than the Nanny one. Their ultimate goal is probably prohibition, which would make life a lot less fun.

The problem is the undeniable force of the BMA’s stats: that alcohol-related damage costs employers in England up to 7.3bn, crime and disorder another 7.3bn and healthcare up to 2.8bn. Aside from the costs to the taxpayer of clearing up the mess and paying for liver-transplants, I’d say there’s also a growing revulsion about the anti-social effects of alcohol. The New Age of Austerity may well give them some political traction.

Northern European drinkers just cannot get the idea out of their heads that when beginning an evening with a couple of units, the endpoint of the process has to be to get legless via 23 units more. And it’s not just those teetotallers who have been unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of alcohol-related nastiness that are fed up with the effects of booze madness on everyone else.

I thought that Mayor Boris’s idea, for example, to ban boozing on the tube was a good one. Travelling on the underground is a vile enough experience without some moron wrestling with his demons and spraying his Red Stripe all over you. And as much as I sympathise with the alcoholic derelicts in the local park who piss everywhere and scare the kids, I wouldn’t mind seeing them be forced to consume their Tennants Super somewhere else. I was nave enough to walk into the convenience store that serves them once and politely suggest that at the end of the day they go round the park benches clearing up the discarded cans. They looked at me as if I’d just urinated all over their floor.

So a few new ideas from the drinks industry, with its 800m a year marketing budget, would not go amiss. They badly need to go beyond paying their annual sub to the Portman Group and trotting out the old chestnut that advertising only shifts brand loyalty. Because if they don’t show willing, they are going to regret it. The doctor’s tourniquet is tightening.

Read more on Editor’s blog: Putting the squeeze on the booze industry…

Editor’s blog: The internet ain’t all great

Sometimes, amid the continuing wonder of all that is provided by the web, one sees the downside: the way in which the digital world has lessened our existences. This was brought home hard by a piece in last week’s FT under the headline: ‘Friends, not editors, shape internet habits’. The article showed how consumer’s media diets are shaped no longer by editors and journalists in newspapers and news websites but by their mates as the masses begin their day on Facebook and even, incomprehensibly, Twitter, that favoured medium of the Twerp.

This would be all very well if we were sharing pieces on subjects of even medium weight. But we all know that the vast majority of such stuff we ping around to each other is pap: clips of blokes getting their bits caught in zips, kittens doing utterly hilarious things, and YouTube resumes of that really ace moment when the latest snaggle-toothed no-hoper from Humberside is ritually humiliated on the X Factor (God that show is vile). You think I protest too much? Just look at the most-viewed items in a ‘respectable’ news website this morning. In the Telegraph’s Top Five are placed a piece about an Adolf Hitler sex video and some load of balls about Chinese UFOs.

But the key to the problem is the line in the FT article: ‘The people you know are going to pick things that are more interesting to you.’ It may make me sound like an old fart, but I believe it’s actually quite important in a democracy that the media exposes you to stuff that you do not find intrinsically interesting. Such as, for example, seriously tedious items like the pensions crisis, lumps falling off the polar ice caps, local council and court reports and, even, if necessary, the continuing tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh.

In the old days this act of presenting information – i.e. the news – was the job of editors. They told you what was going on in the world – the things they thought people ought to know about. (This didn’t mean wall-to-wall worthy boredom: there was always space for great crime stories or randy vicars to leaven the mix.) Now you are the editors and you go a la carte rather than being forced to stick with the fixed menu.

But if we all only have to read what we like and what titillates us then I fear serious problems may be in store. Because, in this rejection of collective, shared knowledge, what results is a situation where people develop their own parallel realities and live in complete ignorance of the things that affect us all. In the worst cases you take to the hills with your assault rifle and a supply of baked beans because, after months of exchanging crackpot information with your like-minded associates online, you’re utterly convinced the Commies or the Little Green Men are going to take over next week.

By the way, the Telegraph today also includes a thoughtful list of other things that are being killed by the web. A simultaneously amusing and sobering roll call it is, too, including memory, concentration, watching TV together and knowing telephone numbers by heart.

Read more on Editor’s blog: The internet ain’t all great…

Editor’s blog: You get what you pay for

I see Gordon Brown has been attempting to ‘hang with the yoof’ again. The PM yesterday gave an interview to Radio 1 Xtra (whatever that is – another example of the creeping ubiquity of the Beeb) in which he said he would be willing to take a salary cut in order to mitigate the effects of the recession. He went further and noted gravely that he was ‘not in this job for the money’. We all know this to be the case because he’s a dutiful son of the manse, wedded to public service. But in some odd way I wish he actually was into the wedge.

I’m not saying he should be as keen on the shekels as Tony and Cherie, but you get my drift. Brown does the job because – although it’s turned out to be the worst bed of nettles and thorns imaginable – he has stretched every sinew of his being for the last 30 years to get it, and God knows what else he’s cut out for. Managing Dunfermline Athletic, perhaps.

The Tories, by the way, are no better on this subject: they’ve said they will cut ministerial salaries by 25% if they win power and David Cameron has, as usual, gone one further by stating he would be willing to do the PM ‘s job for ‘half the money, twice the money or no money’. (That would cause someone of his family means a lot less pain than most others, of course)

It’s hard to know where to start with one’s many objections to this idiocy. Firstly, a salary of one hundred and ninety four grand for being in charge of the collective destiny of 57 million people, as well as being responsible for an annual expenditure budget of many hundreds of billions and trying to ease us all out of this current mess is not excessive. Terry Leahy wouldn’t do it for such a sum; neither would an averagely successful barrister or moderately productive surgeon with a bit of private practice on the side.

The idea that the job should go to the lowest bidder in some sort of insane reverse auction is a nonsense. There are plenty of nutjobs out there who’d do it for nothing. Being willing to offer one’s service gratis instantly devalues the offerer. Nothing will come from nothing.

Secondly, the piss-poor quality of the current batch of ministers (who’d give a job to Bob Ainsworth unless he came with a DSS subsidy attached?) shows that, if anything, they should get more money. What kind of effect does anyone think a 25% pay cut has on that job holder’s morale? About how much discretionary effort they are willing to put in, and what they believe is their own worth? What does it say about the intrinsic worth of the position? The salary should be a reflection of how extremely important these jobs are. But we’d rather expend vast amounts of energy vilifying the political class as venal trouserers of our hard-earned cash.

This moronic hair-shirtism just has to stop. The line that it’s the love of filthy lucre that has led to our undoing, so it has to be shunned, is not going to help us. It’s one thing to be mildly revolted by all those wretched investment bankers with their vampire squid funnels all clambering back on the gravy train. But being worse off isn’t fun. It’s not desirable and it’s not clever. You’ve only got to observe the wretched existences of those subjects ‘on the sick’ in this week’s Channel 4 documentary ‘Benefit Busters’ to be reminded of this. Engaging in an empty PR exercise in outdoing each other on puritanical salary reduction doesn’t get anyone anywhere.

Read more on Editor’s blog: You get what you pay for…

Editor’s blog: A summer of MPV agony

There comes a sad moment in every bloke’s life when he has to consider buying an MPV. It happens to women as well, but they rarely get so depressed about it. With the arrival 3 months ago of my third child, that bloke is me. Just to rub some peroxide in the wound, our motoring correspondent lined up a couple of beauts for me to test: a Fiat Multipla and Citroen Grand Picasso. You can see the results here.

I now have the bit between my teeth, and have continued my researches further. With the global car industry up on bricks, now ought to be a good time to get in after a bargain. First up in early Summer was the Mazda 5. The 5 is a bit of a dark horse – not that common, and slightly odd with its rear sliding doors, but I’ve always rather liked Mazdas.

No, the main problem with the Mazda came with the effect it had on The Wife, who was sitting in the back between the baby seats (keeping juvenile rebellion to an acceptable level). As we swayed up the M40, headed for the in-laws place in Cheshire, there was that gruesome muffled sound of puking into a bag as motion sickness kicked in. Thank god the toddler was asleep, otherwise it would have been, ‘What’s in bag, mummy? Mummy. I want it!’ This unwanted effect must be something to do with the higher centres of gravity in MPVs than conventional cars. But I’m afraid it put the Mazda out of the race.

Next up for the test was the Volkswagen Touran. Many are unkind about the Touran, regarding it as one step up the acceptability ladder from the hapless Vauxhall Zafira. ‘Ah! A Touran,’ said a friend, as I drove past trying not to be noticed. ‘The car they forget to style.’ It seemed a pretty blameless, bland ride to me – not bad to drive, fairly roomy with loads of weird storage areas for paraphernalia. But the most extraordinary thing about the Touran was its eco-friendly and frugal BlueMotion engine. After a week’s going here and there and clocking up a good few miles conducting life’s banalities, the petrol gauge had hardly moved. With a litre now over 1.10 again, that has to be good news.

One solution for a man in my predicament might be a sizeable four-wheel drive – a sort of South of the River Chelsea tractor. You may get spat upon by militant cyclists, and burn through more fuel than a Sherman tank, but they have the space and the kids get a great view from way up there in the air. While Sorrento is a delightful spot on the Amalfi Riviera, a Kia Sorento is a Korean four-wheel drive about which that laureate of the tarmac Jeremy Clarkson once wrote: ‘It’s automotive KFC, a light bulb with reclining seats, a consumer good with the personality of a caravan site and the desirability of herpes.’ I think that’s a trifle harsh, but a week spent with one didn’t leave any of us loved up at all. I’d imagine most Sorento drivers yearn to be able to afford a Range Rover.

There is an argument that MPVs and four-wheel drives are a modern nonsense, and all a family needs is an old-fashioned estate with a decent boot. A proper car, not a tarted-up van. The last time I’d driven a BMW 5 series Touring a decade ago I remember thinking it was so good it did just about everything a car ought to. It was just a near-faultless piece of design and engineering. The 535 diesel still is. Very fast, smooth, drives like a dream. The only hitch here, of course, is that the model I tested costs upwards to 45K. Almost four years’ school fees. A pipe dream, then.

So I went away on holiday to Italy a trifle disillusioned. I’d booked an estate with Hertz and slightly to my annoyance was given a Ford C-Max instead. And do you know what? It’s surprisingly good. Honest, classless, modest in its lack of pretension but full of virtues. It didn’t drive like a bread van, so Mrs G wasn’t sick in the back and it even had a great CD player. I may well have a sniff around for one.

Fords are clearly the answer – a close friend has just improbably swapped his Porsche for a four year old Focus due to an imminent arrival. It’s good to know I’m not enduring this alone.

Read more on Editor’s blog: A summer of MPV agony…