Clash of clans: Yahoo!7, News and Fairfax trade blood and buddies in new tribal conflict

Paul McIntyre
By Paul McIntyre | 9 May 2014
Former Fairfax duo Paul Sigaloff and Ed Harrison, now with Yahoo!7.

Fairfax Media has poached former Viacom International exec Tom Armstrong as its new commercial director in a fascinating round of musical chairs in which three of the most established online media warhorses have all hired top new commercial and sales execs who start almost simultaneously – and some are mates.

Two new players in the decades-old feuding between News Corp and Fairfax are tight – Tom Armstrong and News Corp’s new sales boss, Sharb Farjami, who left Mindshare as COO and starts in his News role on Monday – have been close since their tenures at Viacom and MTV in Australia four years ago.

“They’re very good mates,” said one industry observer familiar with their history. “That’s going to be interesting. Sharb is a very talented guy and so is Tom. The biggest difference with Tom is he’s probably one of the few English chaps out here who has hair.”

Adding to the circular nature of the new media exec roundabout is that Armstrong replaces Ed Harrison, who left Fairfax and has just started as CEO at Yahoo!7 after extended gardening leave. Former Fairfax general manager of digital and national sales Paul Sigaloff has also just started at Yahoo!7 as commercial director after being poached from Fairfax at the same time as Harrison.

Harrison was also said to have been approached last year by News Corp for a commercial role although like the Japanese penchant for saving face, News denies the move.

One of Armstrong’s top priorities will be to hire a new sales chief – in recent weeks media agency bosses have voiced concern at the lack of senior executive contact from Fairfax since the Harrison and Sigaloff defections. Similar criticism has been made about News Corp and Yahoo!7 has also been quiet in the market.

The arrival of all four executives at the same time is likely to see a scramble of activity and some say it’s long overdue. New blood in new chairs, they say, should create some noise for the more established media players who have a raft of emerging rivals to deal with – including the established but growing power of tech giants Google and Facebook.

Fairfax Media’s managing director of Australian Publishing Media, Allen Williams, announced Tom Armstrong’s appointment this morning, saying: “Tom’s understanding of cross-platform sales solutions will assist us to drive new revenue opportunities.”

Armstrong was most recently London-based vice president of global digital ad sales and business development for Viacom International Media Networks. Before that he was vice president of commercial and digital media at MTV Networks in Australia.

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