Choosing a Media Agency of the Year was no easy task in 1997. That
usual barometer of success - new business - provided scant help in a
year when fewer accounts than ever were on the move. At the same time,
finding an agency that stood out from the pack as dynamic,
agenda-setting, innovative and creative proved about as easy as finding
a hair on Graham Duff’s head.
In the event, one outfit did shine through with a year that exceeded all
expectations: Michaelides & Bednash.
It’s not easy to compare M&B, a strategic media planning consultancy,
with rounded media planning and buying operations which are themselves
subject to a whole host of pressures and expectations which M&B is
But as a media company in the broad sense of the term, M&B towered over
allcomers with the sort of performance that other companies could only
M&B this year scooped media planning business from clients spending
pounds 80 million - which puts them second in Campaign’s Media Business
League Table in terms of buying billings. In fact, its list of clients
grew 90 per cent from six to 11. Its ’billings’ broke through the pounds
100 million barrier to top pounds 115 million, and the company’s staff
numbers grew accordingly, up 60 per cent.
And if transposing billings figures onto an agency that does not
actually handle any media buying makes you feel uncomfortable, then
M&B’s income performance speaks for itself. Over the past 12 months, its
income has grown by 32 per cent, a figure which indicates, perhaps more
than any other, the fact that the strategic media marketplace is alive
and kicking as a separate business.
And, with margins in conventional media agencies ever tighter, more and
more media operations are claiming the strategic planning territory as a
way of adding value and, more importantly, adding fee income. It’s fair
to say that the existence of M&B has helped to set the agenda in this
field, and the agency’s coup in snaffling First Direct’s media planning
out of that doyen of creative media thinking, New PHD, sealed its
Other wins for M&B included Britvic’s centralised media planning, on the
back of the agency’s work for Britvic’s Tango brand, media planning on
the pounds 50 million Cable & Wireless account, the pounds 10 million
Pearl Assurance business and the BBC’s online service, Beeb.com.
At the same time, M&B worked alongside TMD Carat and Mother on the
launch campaign for Channel 5, one of the highest profile campaigns of
the year and one which was characterised by a number of smart and
innovative media ideas, such as the fifth column ads on the TV listings
pages in the weeks leading up to the channel’s debut.
In short, 1997 was the year that M&B proved that there was a market for
strategic media companies (something underlined by the launch of Unity
in June), proved that there are plenty of major blue-chip clients hungry
for strategic media planning expertise and happy to pay for it, and,
perhaps most satisfying, proved the critics wrong.
Of the traditional media agencies, MediaVest ran M&B a very close second
in the voting for Media Agency of the Year. MediaVest began the year as
the Media Centre, an established and highly regarded brand, and became
an industry laughing stock when MediaVest was introduced in the summer
as the global brand for DMB&B’s sister media operation.
However, the agency made a positive out of a negative, rode the
underwear jokes and capitalised on the publicity with one of the most
amusing trade press campaigns of recent memory. There was, however, much
more to the agency’s year than a change in identity. Media-Vest emerged
triumphant in the Central Office of Information’s media overhaul,
picking up the two most prestigious accounts - the TV and press planning
and buying businesses, together worth almost pounds 50 million.
The agency also won the battle for Associated Newspapers’ pounds 15
million centralised media, seeing off stiff competition from a raft of
The loss of the pounds 20 million Royal Mail business at the end of the
year was the one significant blight on an otherwise stirling
From the ranks of the rest of the media industry, several agencies
earned themselves a special mention. Initiative Media, for so long the
moribund giant dominated by Unilever, was responsible for the biggest
upset of the year, snatching the pounds 90 million Peugeot-Citroen media
business from the long-standing incumbent, Mediapolis.
The significance of the win cannot be underestimated; at a stroke it
killed off the one-client tag which had dogged the agency for so long
and gave a stamp of approval to its strategic credentials.
But the departure of two media directors, followed by the shock
resignation of its chief executive, Phil Georgiadis, in November, were
tangible knock-backs and the agency will have to move quickly next year
if it is to maintain its momentum.
Plaudits also go to TMD Carat - another strong year, with pounds 36
million in new business and a restructuring which strengthened and
broadened the agency’s skills base. Manning Gottlieb Media did a deal
with Omnicom, which underlined the financial and professional success of
the team (and also netted them a tidy sum), while its new sister agency,
BMP Optimum, made a successful debut out of BMP DDB’s media department -
and went on to add pounds 45 million of new business.
Universal McCann also turned in a strong new-business performance, even
after the departure of its managing director, Trista Grant, and began to
emerge as a serious media brand.
Last year’s winner: TMD Carat.