Media Headliner: Stephen Allan - Campaign Media Achiever 2008

By Ian Darby, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 21 November 2008 12:00AM

After successfully heading Group M in the UK, Stephen Allan returns to MediaCom with big things planned.

This year has seen something of a Brit invasion of the major media network jobs. The former Starcom UK director Richard Beavan took the helm at Initiative, while the former Universal McCann boss Nick Brien stepped up to run IPG's Mediabrands division.

And then in May this year, WPP finally confirmed what many already knew and Campaign had reported a month earlier: Stephen Allan, the chief executive of its Group M UK operations, would be taking over from Alexander Schmidt-Vogel as the worldwide chief executive of MediaCom. The appointment marked a return to the media brand that Allan had done so much to create and the opening of the next chapter of a remarkable career in media that began back in 1982.

At this week's Campaign Media Awards, this career was recognised when Allan, now 45, was handed the Campaign Media Achiever of the Year award.

Allan's ascendancy to the top global job at MediaCom followed significant achievements in the UK market, where he was one of the principal architects of the new MediaCom to emerge out of Grey Media's acquisition of The Media Business Group. Having steered MediaCom to the top of the UK media agency rankings, Allan had then added even more glitter to a sparkling CV by transforming WPP's Group M media operation from a mere buying unit into a grown-up media powerhouse.

His success at Group M may have been brought about by WPP's acquisition of Grey Advertising and the accompanying majority stake in MediaCom, but Allan had demonstrated massive drive and entrepreneurial zeal earlier in his career when there were no such sizeable parent companies to help. And the return to MediaCom seems fitting. Allan said on his appointment to the global role: "MediaCom is in my blood, and I am relishing the opportunity to further unlock the potential of the business. There are so many talented people inside our network and I really do believe that the best is yet to come."

Working alongside The Media Business founder Allan Rich, Allan helped to drive growth at the independent agency throughout the 90s, creating an identity and character for the agency all of its own, one that arguably still resides in MediaCom today. Described at the time as "punchy, lively, sparky", but also extremely accountable, The Media Business was very much a reflection of what Rich and Allan put into it. And its success explains why Grey saw fit to pay £28 million for the agency in late 1998, making Allan a rich man and giving him a sizeable stake in MediaCom TMB, the agency that was created from the merger of Grey's MediaCom and The Media Business.

However, Allan didn't rest at this point. As he said at the time: "We're not just taking the money from the table and walking away."

On taking over the chief executive role from Rich in 2000, he then led Media-Com on an unprecedented period of growth, which culminated, by the close of 2003, in MediaCom topping the UK media agency league table for the first time, knocking ZenithOptimedia off the top spot. Allan's focus and leadership during this time impressed both his colleagues and his fiercest rivals and the other agencies struggled to match the passion and commitment that MediaCom fired in its people and the loyalty it generated from clients.

It was this ability and period of success that led Sir Martin Sorrell to hand the Group M reins to Allan, who proved more than up to the task of taking on responsibility for the growth of WPP's media offering in the UK. Both in terms of scale and the breadth of its service, Group M thrived under Allan's tenacious leadership, with few at its constituent agencies doubting that it had a strong character taking it forward into a new, digital world.

There are big challenges ahead, not least in making MediaCom a better co-ordinated, better resourced network, but the early signs are that Allan's drive and ability is already paying off. He is now benefiting from grooming a talented and loyal senior team around him (the former Media- Com UK managing director and chief executive Nick Lawson was appointed as MediaCom's chief executive in Europe by Allan, and Lawson was replaced in the UK by another MediaCom veteran, Jane Ratcliffe).

Looking ahead, many suspect Allan will now make as much of an impact on the global scene as he has made in the UK and he has already begun the process of building a team around him. In addition to Lawson, Allan announced the appointment of Doug Checkeris, the chief executive of MediaCom US, to the expanded role of chief executive of MediaCom's North America and Canada operations. Karen Blackett, the MediaCom UK marketing director, became the chief operating officer in Europe, and David Kyffin, Allan's former MediaCom and Group M colleague, was appointed as the global chief ROI and direct marketing officer.

His Group M bosses are convinced that Allan is set to thrive on the world stage. Irwin Gotlieb, the chief executive of Group M, says: "Stephen has invested his heart in the MediaCom and Group M networks over the years. When the opportunity came up for him to continue shaping and growing the business in a potent manner, he jumped at the chance."

So, in terms of scale at least, Allan's most significant achievements may still be to come.

ALLAN'S CV
2008: Appointed as the worldwide chief executive of MediaCom
2005: Joins Group M as its UK chief executive
2000: Promoted to the role of group chief executive at MediaCom
1999: Made the group managing director of MediaCom TMB
1993: Appointed as the group managing director of The Media Business
1982: Joins The Media Business Group as a media executive

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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