Jeremy Lee: ZenithOptimedia shows that Group M is not unassailable

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Jeremy Lee
Jeremy Lee

Finally, media agencies that don't belong to the Group M stable appear to have managed to break their duck.

The news that ZenithOptimedia had secured the prized £50 million media account for Royal Bank of Scotland retail banking, wrestling it out of its incumbent of more than a decade, MediaCom, may have caused other tired agency chief executives to kick their gnarled and weary feet like a previously bedridden Grandpa Joe. Or at least exhale a wheezy sigh of relief.

For once, it seems, a Group M agency didn't get everything its own way, proving that there was still actually a market worth fighting for. With Christmas in sight, there can be few more cheering thoughts as they tuck into their festive turkey (organic goose, more likely) than that competition on a level playing field is still a real prospect.

There was the impression that some agency chiefs had become defeated by the prevailing conditions of business, but now, it is surely still worth getting out of bed for.

After all, this victory might just re-energise a sector that sometimes seemed to be understandably in danger of just rolling over and letting everything go to the WPP media agency portfolio than face them in a pitch because they couldn't be beaten on price.

All credit, then, to Gerry Boyle and his team at ZenithOptimedia who, after an otherwise quiet year, have found themselves pulling off what looks like a major coup, thereby propelling themselves to the very top of the new-business league at the same time.

Not that this back-slapping is necessarily a criticism of Group M - far from it. Who can blame it for taking advantage of its leadership position and exploiting it ruthlessly? In fact, who wouldn't have done - or wish that they'd been able to do - exactly the same?

Nor should anything be directly extrapolated from Media-Com's performance in the pitch. With Helen Page, the former RBS marketing director, it was, erm, blessed with a particularly challenging client. It was also forced to absorb the loss of Steve Bignell, its chief operating officer, to ITV mid-pitch - enough to unsettle any process.

MediaCom also retains, among other parts of the business, the RBS insurance brands, which are due for an initial public offering in 2013 and are therefore likely to up their spend. It is also still the biggest media agency in the UK and you can bet its fiercely competitive chief executive, Karen Blackett, won't take this loss lying down - it's not how she will want her first year in charge to be remembered.

The fact that RBS retail has only awarded its contract on a short-term basis suggests that it is making a rather nervy tentative step. But it remains a victory for optimists and pluralists, while also not being a total disaster for MediaCom.

jeremy.lee@haymarket.com

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