Feature

Manning hopes trio's blend of skills will re-energise MG OMD

MG OMD needs to regain the ground it has lost to the big buying shops, writes Ian Darby.

While it would be harsh to say the wheels have fallen off at Manning Gottlieb OMD, they certainly seem to be in need of a good old tightening.

Even this judgment looks harsh when you consider that the agency, one of the most creative and successful of the 90s, has recently climbed into the top-ten UK media agencies by billings for the first time (eclipsing its sister Omnicom agency PHD).

Yet earlier this month, Alison Wright, its managing director, departed unceremoniously. No reason was given, but from the outside it seemed that an agency founded on entrepreneurial principles in 1990 by Nick Manning and Colin Gottlieb had lost some of its new-business momentum. It has won little this year (Conde Nast's Easy Living launch aside), and lost its £18 million More Th>n account to Universal McCann.

Wright seemed a nice woman and a bright strategist, one source says, but as an agency founded on mixing creativity in media with aggressive business strategy, a new management impetus was needed.

So Manning, now the chief executive of OMD Group (which also incorporates MG OMD's larger sister OMD UK), has turned to a triumvirate of managing partners to lead the agency. And this after spending the early part of the year introducing the new group structure and planning the launch of the buying unit OPera (of which MG OMD is part along with OMD UK and PHD).

Wright will not be replaced immediately. Instead, the managing partners Robert Ffitch and Neil Hurman have been joined at the same level by the newly promoted Phil Nunn. The arrangement is unlikely to be a long-term one, but the hope is that the trio's blend of skills will re-energise the agency.

Ffitch, known as a consummate client and operations man (Virgin Trains and More Th>n were two key accounts he handled), has been at the agency since it launched.

Loyalty is clearly one of Ffitch's assets and he has always shied away from building a public profile. Manning's plan for the trio has Hurman as very much the public face of the agency.

Hurman was the media director of Leagas Delaney (where he built a reputation for his strategic thinking on Adidas), before joining Mirror Group Newspapers as its ad director. Hurman moved from Mirror Group last year, several months after the arrival of Sly Bailey as the Trinity Mirror chief executive, and joined MG OMD a year ago to head its strategic division The Source.

Energy and ideas are central parts of his armoury and one observer is in no doubt that if Manning eventually settles on one of the three as the next managing director, it will be Hurman.

Nunn, possibly the largest man in media, bristles with energy and is known at MG OMD for being first into the office and the last to leave.

His digital and direct background (he ran Optimedia's interactive arm and learned the DM basics at Radio Times) has boosted the agency's activity in this area.

John McGeogh, the sales director at Capital, was the broadcast director at MG OMD until a year ago. He says: "This is a team with different skills - it's almost impossible to replace what Nick and Colin had but Robert is the base of history and the other two bring the new ideas. Phil has the energy and can bring challenging ideas in."

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the team is to recapture the sense that MG OMD is a market leader at the creative end of the media agency landscape. This position seems to have been lost in the quest for growth and against some tough competition. Despite some impressive activity, other agencies have caught up. Creative awards are not a perfect indicator, but it was telling at last year's Campaign Media Awards that several of the bigger media buying agencies matched MG OMD.

So can the new team regain the MG OMD culture and impressive growth?

"That's what we want to keep alive. They're charged with contributing to that culture, but it won't be easy," Manning says.

Hurman says it will be hard, but not impossible: "People were telling me before I came back that agency land is a very challenging place to be working. While servicing clients and making guarantees and keeping them, you've got to keep the lords and masters over the Atlantic happy with growth, so it's tough."

He adds: "Most people are clear that MG OMD is a success story based on creativity, enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit. The challenge is to recognise that and to build a new success story from the platform we already have."

THE MG OMD FILE

1990: Founded by Nick Manning and Colin Gottlieb

1997: Acquired by Omnicom for £12 million

2001: Gottlieb leaves to become the chief executive of OMD Europe

2002: Manning Gottlieb Media becomes part of OMD UK Group and is renamed Manning Gottlieb OMD

2004: Nick Manning appointed as the chief executive of OMD UK Group and creates a group board

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