Craze's first year at MPG has brought a degreeof success

Mark Craze joined Media Planning Group a year ago as its managing partner. His appointment seemed to be an inspired move by the Havas-owned network as it bid to turn around its flagging UK fortunes: with one gesture, it reaffirmed its commitment to the UK agency while acknowledging the need for big changes.

"It's not going to be comfortable, cosy or easy," Craze told Campaign at the time. But just what has been achieved in that year?

The recent news hasn't been auspicious. Last week, one of MPG's largest UK clients, ING Direct, which bills £12 million, called a review. MPG also failed to capture the £9 million Waitrose business, which went to Manning Gottlieb OMD - a blow, given Craze's new-business priority of capturing domestic retail accounts.

MPG's quest for a strong new-business year has been dealt an additional blow by the general paucity of pitches. However, it is ranked in the top five of Campaign's new-business league after solid wins such as Eidos and Danepak. So Craze has achieved some qualified success in building MPG's paltry UK billings.

Craze's other big priority for his first year was to build a strong team around himself and the other managing partner, Marc Mendoza. New faces have arrived: Jim McDonald from The Allmond Partnership as the head of broadcast, Martyn Stokes from Universal McCann as the strategy director, and Martin Thomas from Nylon as the head of strategy. Hirings which seem, to me at least, to be distinctly middleweight rather than heavyweight. Solid operators, but hardly top industry names.

Particular burden will rest with Thomas and Stokes who, along with the now part-time Marie Oldham, have the responsibility of continuing MPG's run of excellent work (last November, its Intel work won Media Campaign of the Year at the Campaign Media Awards). Activity for Magners is probably a highlight to date, but it's too early to call.

The fortunes of MPG in the UK are tied up with those of the network and ongoing speculation over the Havas chairman Vincent Bollore's overtures to Aegis. While analysts continue to question the benefits of a merger between Aegis and Havas, Bollore's own apparent preference for closer working between the rival groups leaves you wondering what the future holds for MPG UK management if a joint venture or similar alliance is forged with Aegis Media.

Putting this aside, while Craze's agency is hardly setting the market alight, at least it looks more solid than it did a year ago. Rather cleverly, Craze agreed a three-year timetable with Havas to turn around the agency - thus buying himself time before being judged a success or failure. He may need every second.

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