Just who is going to supply the fresh thinkingin media?

"Stone me, what a life" was Tony Hancock's constant lament in the face of the sheer tedium of existence. The leaders of the top ten UK media agencies might just understand how he felt. They've been with their current employer for an average of 11.4 years and just one, Starcom's Linda Smith, has been at her agency for less than five years.

If variety is the spice of life, the average media agency boss must be the blandest thing on the menu. There is much to be said for management stability, and recent agency restructures and management changes have shown that the UK media scene (at the top levels at least) is a very stable one indeed. ZenithOptimedia's chief executive, Gerry Boyle (seven years at the agency), has just hired his chairman and managing director from within; Carat's Neil Jones (15 years with Carat) carried out a restructure of the agency without bringing in a single new face, and Universal McCann's Andy Jones (20 years a McCann employee) also looked internally when creating his new structure. So there's relatively little refreshing of management even at the less senior levels.

Clearly, the agency leaders carrying out these changes are successful people who, in many cases, have shaped in full, or in part, the culture of their businesses, so why should they move elsewhere for new challenges? The real problems arise when they are no longer so driven by what they do that they are benefiting the business. This isn't an issue in most cases, but there may be a greater underlying problem: where are the new ideas, approaches and insights coming from if most of the agency industry leaders have been in one place for so long?

On a wider industry level, where is the sense of perspective, especially as the world is changing so quickly? In many ways, these are the best people to run media businesses because they have grown up planning and buying for brands, understand media owners and have a good sense of what will work and what won't. But, just occasionally, it would be good to have an injection of new blood from outside the media agency world.

But few networks seem willing to take the risk of turning to somebody untested in running an agency. For better or worse, it seems you need somebody coached in the old school to make a media agency tick.

Yet I'm still left wondering why so many of these people have stayed in one place for so long. As Hancock said when trying to rally his mate Sid into action: "Don't you have any ambitions, Sidney? Any direction in your life? Don't you aspire to higher things?"

Mind you, when there are mortgages and school fees to pay and the only option is launching a comms planning agency, you begin to understand their dilemma.

ian.darby@haynet.com.

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