Nicola Ibison (1983 Leaver) – A Talent for Managing

Nicola Ibison

After working fairly hard to pass exams and having had a wonderful education at Merchant Taylors’, I fell into a job which doesn’t need any specific qualifications when I managed some of Britain’s best known TV presenters.

Until very recently, I headed up the Factual, Specialist and Sports Media divisions of a company called James Grant Management. The company’s clients include Ant & Dec, Davina McCall, Holly Willoughby and Keith Lemon and, in my divisions, we had (amongst others) Clare Balding, the Hairy Bikers, Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford, Lorraine Pascale, Gabby Logan and the youtube star Fleur de Force.

In September 2015, I decided I needed a change from the long hours and three hour daily commute, so I’ve set up a new company, called Ibison Talent. It’s not called that out of arrogance, but out of laziness. I couldn’t think of anything else and anyway, people would look for my name, so I might as well put it above the shop door, so to speak.

The new company is no longer about managing TV presenters but instead, is about advising companies on how to use the right celebrities and do the best deals.

Meanwhile, I’m proud to still call many of my clients friends and I’ve been touched by the kind words they have said in testimonials about me, which have gone on my new website.

So far, so good with the new business, though it’s early days. I’m enjoying the creativity and being able to help people to work with celebrities – and I’m still in touch with my old clients because the first place I call when I need a celebrity, is my old company.

So, how did I get from Merchants to this strange old job? Well, I went onto Liverpool University and from there, became a journalist. I was accepted for a post-graduate degree in newspaper journalism in Cardiff and went onto work as a reporter on the Ormskirk Advertiser, moving to the Liverpool Echo and the Birmingham Evening Mail.

I was then lucky enough to be offered a scholarship to an American University called Northwestern University, where I studied for a Masters’ degree in Broadcast Journalism.

I returned from the USA and was offered a job at Central Television. On my first day, I was sent out to find a one-legged duck and report on it. I won’t bore you with the whys and wherefores but, suffice to say, I was the worst reporter in Central TV’s history.

That very same day, I realised that being in front of a camera was not suited to me and I was far better off sitting in a warm office, telling others what to do. So, I stuck to the newsdesk and did just that. That job took me to ITN in London and to GMTV, where I was Senior Producer. One day, I decided to set up my own company. My father was sick and I wanted to be available to spend time with him (note to self, starting up your own company does NOT give you more time to be with people). I had no idea how to do all the admin such as vat and invoicing but I did understand what made a good TV presenter and I liked people. I loved TV and I was able to match presenters to TV shows, so NCI Management was born and eventually sold, leading me to James Grant.

What qualities do you need to be a good manager? Well, the ability to listen and understand your clients and know what makes them tick is a first. You need to network and get to know everyone in TV. You need to work hard to understand TV and deals and contracts, so that your opinion and meetings mean something. You need honesty and the ability to manage your clients’ expectations. People in the industry are going to tell them they’re brilliant. Often they are, but they will only get constructive criticism and genuine honesty from you. It’s important not to do a deal for money but do it for the right reasons and the money will follow. Integrity and confidentiality are crucial – you are representing people and they trust you to get it right.

I’ve rarely given a job to the cleverest person who applied but I have given jobs to the people who shake my hand, who demonstrate warmth and initiative and who work hard and learn.

Newspaper journalism taught me a lot. It taught me how to find solutions to problems and not to give up. It taught me the value of getting to know people quickly and to reliably represent what they say. Those skills served me well. But what was the experience which helped me most of all? Well, it was actually working in the Liverpool fish markets as a teenager, for my father. I was up at 4am, the only female in the market, except for the legendary Ruby. I had to think on my feet, convince the restaurants to buy OUR lobsters and cope with the scouse wit, which I miss to this day, when I’m in London.

Nicola Ibison
1983 Leaver