It's not easy launching a media network. Forget about client issues, developing the new positioning and services -- the name's the tricky thing.
Recent offerings have seen the usual acronyms and names above the door replaced by the new breed of Mediahead (formerly CDP Media) and Brand Connection (previously MBS Media). Now Aegis has hit us with Vizeum, bringing together 17 agencies in Europe (including BBJ in the UK) under its pseudo-Latin moniker.
It took months to come up with Vizeum, which apparently was the closest Aegis could get to suggesting "vision" without infringing another agency's name. Now this process is out of the way, Trista Grant, Vizeum's UK managing director, can get on with running its UK offering.
The creation of Vizeum across Europe, with a subsequent move globally, seems like a no-brainer for Aegis. It unites agencies with diverse brands, such as BBJ and the German shop HMS, into a network with 395 staff and billings of $1.5 billion. Small beer compared with its sister network Carat, but at least Aegis is moving towards a coherent second-network offering.
It hopes to bring in more international new business to the group, while launching the usual "innovative" new positioning for clients. This will involve combining its knowledge of media planning and buying with consumer psychology to maximise impact for brands.
But the important factor in this for the UK, Grant claims, is that it provides focus for the agency, launched in 1989 as Buhlmann Brien Jelfs. She says: "After more than three years, in my case at least, of thinking about it, we've a long-term, future-proof positioning. This is an evolution and we'll be clearer and more defined."
Since joining BBJ from Universal McCann, where she helped launch McCann-Erickson's specialist media operation, Grant has overseen a turbulent period in its history. She was hired to take it forward as Volkswagen's account moved, and won the PSA (Peugeot-Citroën) account, only to resign it after a year because of group conflict with Renault. But what attracted Grant to BBJ in the first place? "The business had hit trouble, having just lost Volkswagen. I love the challenging, make-or-break opportunities," she reveals.
The agency is now roughly the size it was when she inherited it, with 80 people and a turnover of around £250m. New relationships with clients including BMW and Coca-Cola came in 2000 and HBOS in 2001 but little seems to have happened since.
Reunited with Mark Craze, the Carat group chief executive, and her first boss in media at TMD ("I literally placed his bets and fed his parking meter"), Grant has tried to bring stability to the agency.
She was recently away for several months on maternity leave to have her first child but returns ready for the Vizeum task. "Vizeum UK, and the new positioning and direction, has given me the challenge I need. I tend to look at things as three-year challenges and this is a tough brief. If, in three years, we have added value to our client base and managed to attract the right clients, it would be mission accomplished," she says.
Grant is refreshingly honest about the rebranding, admitting the market will see little immediate difference in its UK offering. Her first task is to show existing clients that the services they bought and rely on will stay the same. The plan, however, is to add services and ways of working over the coming months. While the new "psychology" positioning sounds intriguing, Grant says that she is not sure how this will manifest itself in the UK: "We don't claim to have this immediately but we have the raw materials to embrace it."
In terms of relations with Carat, little in the UK will change. The creation of Aegis Media to house Carat and Vizeum may have a large impact in some markets but Carat and BBJ had already pooled their trading into a "virtual group" headed by Mark Jarvis, the Carat broadcast director, and Chris Boothby, BBJ's negotiations director. Craze will continue to head the group UK operations.
Grant and her management team, depleted recently by the communications planning director Tim Elton's decision to launch a start-up, have started a gradual process of change. Creative workshops and courses for staff have been underway for months to reinforce Vizeum's mantra of creating "connections" with consumers.
For Grant, the Vizeum challenge has come just at the right time. She has committed her immediate future to making it work when she may otherwise have sought a new direction. For BBJ, the hope is that the rebranding will transform a survivor into a new breed of agency. With a solid client list and the backing of Aegis' resources, they at least have time.
The Grant file
1985 TMD/Carat, planner/buyer
1987 McCann-Erickson, planner/buyer
1995 Universal McCann, managing director
1997 Universal McCann Australia, managing director
1999 BBJ, managing director
2003 Vizeum, managing director
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