Campaign Media Awards 2008: Media Achiever of the Year - Stephen Allan
campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 21 November 2008 12:00AM
In May this year, WPP finally confirmed what many already knew and Campaign had reported a month earlier - that 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 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.
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. 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 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. On taking over the chief executive role from Rich in 2000, he took MediaCom 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 colleagues and his 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 MediaCom 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).The fact that the UK agency remains in good health is testament to this team and the succession plan paying off.
Looking ahead, many suspect Allan will make an impact on the global scene equivalent to that he has made in the UK, for which he deserves recognition.
2008: Appointed worldwide chief executive, MediaCom
2005: Joins Group M as its UK chief executive
2000: Promoted to group chief executive, MediaCom
1999: Made group managing director, MediaCom TMB
1993: Appointed group managing director, The Media Business
1982: Joins The Media Business Group as a media executive
2007: Mark Zuckerberg
2006: David Pattison
2005: Andy Duncan
2004: Simon Kelner
2003: Tony Ball
2002: David Yelland
2001: Michael Jackson
2000: Caroline Marland
1999: Marjorie Scardino
1998: David Elstein
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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