HEADLINER: The client turned media man who must unite IPG’s brands - Jeffrey Merrihue wants to rejig Initiative Media. Is he up to it, Claire Beale asks?

If there was ever such a thing as a typical media man, Jeffrey Merrihue isn’t it. He may have the wouldn’t-want-to-meet-him-up-a-dark-alley looks of the media bruiser but don’t be fooled.

If there was ever such a thing as a typical media man, Jeffrey

Merrihue isn’t it. He may have the

wouldn’t-want-to-meet-him-up-a-dark-alley looks of the media bruiser but

don’t be fooled.



Sure, when he pitched up as chief executive of Initiative Media last

month, media luddites scoffed. What does the man know about media? He’s

a client for God’s sake. Doesn’t belong in an agency. Worse still, he’s

American - and what the Yanks know about media ain’t worth knowing,

right?



Wrong. Merrihue has more than a few media credentials tucked up his

sleeves.



Or he would, if he hadn’t already rolled them up, flexed his muscles and

banged his fists on the negotiation table with the frightening prospect

of a single Interpublic Group media buying operation. The idea is to

pool the media negotiation muscle for IPG’s media brands - Initiative,

Western and Universal - into a single pot that would represent the UK’s

biggest media player.



We’re not talking merger, although Western and Initiative are already

joined at the hip. This is about maximising size, and with two handsome

brands and one ailing runt (that’s Western for those of you who haven’t

been reading about the Vauxhall review), IPG could be on to

something.



’IPG has a clear view of what needs to be done,’ Merrihue explains

’We’ll maintain separate brands but lever IPG’s size. We’re planning the

holy grail of media - the ultimate in service exclusivity in what will

be the biggest negotiation point in the UK.’



Under the new model the three brands will remain but will work much more

closely together across Europe and, ultimately, around the world to

combine administrative and negotiating power. They already share poster

buying in Germany, for example, and broader media buying in Eastern

Europe, but a formal plan is now in place to expand the strategy.

’Combined agencies in other markets have leveraged clout and synergies

and we can learn from that in new territories,’ Merrihue says.



It will need careful handling, of course. In a market where client

conflict is still a major concern, how comfortable will advertisers feel

sharing crack negotiation skills with their competitors? Merrihue is

very clear that the client is king and nothing will be pushed through

without the clients being on board. ’We will do it, but it will only

occur when and because our clients urge us to go ahead.’ Not all of the

requisite conditions exist in the UK right now, but agreement has been

reached in principle.



In the UK, though, this would mean persuading Unilever - one of the

biggest advertisers - to share the advantages of its volume with other

advertisers.



Surely the big clients have little to gain and much competitive

advantage to share. ’We wouldn’t even consider doing this without making

sure Unilever is comfortable with it. But we believe there are

significant and tangible benefits for Unilever. We’ve done our homework

and because they’re the largest client they will proportionately benefit

the most.’ It’s a question of demonstrating the benefits, ’like Jerry

Maguire, it’s ’show me the money’,’ Merrihue adds.



In actioning all this, Merrihue brings with him his experience of

launching the dedicated Kellogg’s European media operation through J.

Walter Thompson last year, which operates as a separate unit but adds

its media volume to MindShare deals. As a key client, Merrihue has also

lived through the birth of MindShare and you can bet he won’t be able to

forget all the insight he gleaned from the combining of the JWT and

Ogilvy & Mather media brands.



But for all his enthusiasm for greater co-operation between IPG’s media

companies, Merrihue’s main task is to drive Initiative Media in Europe,

taking it ever up-stream and into the heartland of the client’s

communication needs.



Many clients may still be more interested in price and discount than

strategic communications solutions but Merrihue believes if you don’t

deliver on the former, you don’t even have the right to get into the

latter.



It’s a model the UK office has been working on for some time and one

Merrihue has embraced from both sides of the client/agency fence. So it

comes without the superficial fluff that some media agencies succumb

to.



As Merrihue himself says: ’At the end of the day there are two types of

company, those that win and keep happy clients and those that

don’t.’



THE MERRIHUE FILE

1986 Nabisco Equador, marketing manager

1988 Nabisco Venezuela, director of marketing

1992 Nabisco/Del Monte Europe, marketing manager

1993 Kellogg Colombia, marketing manager

1995 Kellogg Mexico, director of marketing and sales

1997 Kellogg Europe, market development manager

1998 Initiative Media, UK chief executive and European regional director



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