Campaign Report: Top 300 Agencies - The year of going GLOBAL - Suddenly, all the big media operators want to take their place on the worldwide stage. Claire Beale reports on last year’s movers and shakers

Nineteen ninety-seven was the year of change. As thoughts turned to the millennium, the media industry was laying its own foundations for the next century - and most of the top media agencies underwent dramatic upheavals designed to prepare them for the enormous shifts that still lie ahead.

Nineteen ninety-seven was the year of change. As thoughts turned to

the millennium, the media industry was laying its own foundations for

the next century - and most of the top media agencies underwent dramatic

upheavals designed to prepare them for the enormous shifts that still

lie ahead.



Few companies emerged from 1997 as they went in and metamorphosis became

the media trend with which even the least strategic of agencies could

identify. Change began, as it often does, at the top. Zenith Media, the

UK’s biggest buying agency, began the year with a dramatic announcement

that encapsulated the process.



Christine Walker’s reasons for stepping down as chief executive of

Zenith were many, but her desire to escape the binds of an amorphous

international corporation to set up her own agency holds a message for

the entire industry.



For, if 1997 was about anything, it was about the globalisation of media

companies. The exigencies of developing international media brands

rocked many of the UK’s largest players and re-set their foundations to

face the rest of the world.



The agenda had been firmly set by Martin Sorrell the previous year. His

avowed desire to create a global colossus from the Ogilvy & Mather and

J. Walter Thompson media operations finally began to take shape in 1997

and, although all the dominoes have not yet toppled, the creation of

MindShare is set to hasten the arrival of the international media super

league.



For those agencies still clinging to the full-service ethic, the first -

very late - step was to recognise media as a standalone business. By the

end of the year, DDB’s BMP Optimum, Lowe Howard-Spink’s Western and

MindShare sealed the passing of the traditional agency set-up.

Representing Omnicom, the Interpublic Group and WPP holding companies

(and this is 10 of the world’s top 20 networks), these new media brands

reflect recognition from the global agency networks that media is now an

international business and one where the clock is ticking. Omnicom even

snapped up Manning Gottlieb Media in August to strengthen its UK

portfolio. True, WPP remains the only group to have a firm strategy

while Omnicom and IPG still seem blinkered by the fact that media’s not

a big game in their own US backyard. But they are all beginning to

twitch their media strings around the world and 1997 saw UK agencies

jumping.



It was no surprise, then, to see DMB&B’s MacManus parent launch its own

international media brand, MediaVest, which replaced the Media Centre in

the UK in the summer. But the operation launched, acknowledging that

simply changing the status of the DMB&B media departments around the

world was not enough. Mergers and acquisitions are a must, and the year

saw the playing out of an international dating game among the smaller

agency networks with media at the top of the list of desirable

attributes.



Leo Burnett and Bartle Bogle Hegarty had both done their share of

playing the field in 1997 before settling on marriage in the final week,

and Burnetts’ acquisition of a stake in BBH may well provide the vital

ingredient (BBH’s Motive media operation) that saves the agency’s media

credentials. But, until a media merger is arranged, it’s still on the

critical list.



December’s stock market flotation of Zenith Media, the only media

operation able to claim anything like global credentials, will set the

scene for further consolidation. Like CIA and Carat, Zenith is at the

top of the wish list for many agencies looking for a ready-made

international media network and, while CIA was nibbled at by WPP (which

now has a 14 per cent stake in the company), the year ended with Carat

and Zenith in tentative merger talks.



As if the global perspective wasn’t unsettling enough, 1997 was also a

year of management upheaval. Christine Walker’s search for independence

via the start-up, Walker Media, was followed by Derek Morris bailing out

of the newly created BMP Optimum - where he was joint managing

director - to create a three-man strategic planning operation, Unity,

and Phil Georgiadis leaving Initiative Media, where his chief executive

status was set to be expanded to an international role, to join Walker

Media. CIA Medianetwork was beset by its own management problems, losing

its managing director, Mike Tunnicliffe, and its vice-chairman, Marco

Rimini. But Chris Ingram’s decision to step down as chief executive so

that, as chairman, he could concentrate on international expansion, left

observers in no doubt that the company’s focus now goes well beyond UK

horizons.



But this ’brain-drain’ from the top agencies highlights one of the most

worrying trends of all. Zenith, MediaCom and Western devoted

considerable time to the search for managing directors, and MindShare

for a top-flight broadcast director. The dearth of high-calibre senior

management was disturbingly clear. For all the globalisation of media,

the UK media market remains one of the most sophisticated and innovative

in the world. But unless the industry continues to invest in its people

it could find itself increasingly marginalised in the new breed of bland

international networks.



Amid all this reshuffling of the media pack, however, those companies

which survived last year intact should now question whether they have

really prepared themselves to face the challenges of the next

millennium.



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