MEDIA HEADLINER: Can affable 'iron man' forge a separate Optimedia identity? John Taylor is bolder than his predecessor but is he as driven, Ian Darby asks?

So another senior figure departs a top job in media. Simon Lloyd, Optimedia's global chairman and chief architect, might not command the valedictory fanfare of a Chris Ingram, but after more than 30 years in media his achievements have not gone unnoticed.

If Lloyd's intentions of building a serious Publicis-backed international network were only finally realised with the creation of Zenith Optimedia Group, at least his bravery in attempting to achieve this in the late 80s should be applauded. John Perriss, ZOG's chief executive, says: "There is huge respect and affection for Simon. He was involved in a huge venture and was not given much financial resource to build the Optimedia network. To have built it to the position he has is fantastic."

So with the back-slapping out of the way it's time for Optimedia to move forward. Lloyd is replaced in his global role by the 45-year-old John Taylor, a former UK managing director of the agency. While Lloyd clearly had nowhere else to go within ZOG after Perriss beat him to the top post, it seemed from the outside that Taylor's ambitions had long been on hold.

Meeting Taylor you sense there may be a change in style from that of Lloyd. This is a man who is bold and free in his approach. He sports a bright yellow shirt and his cycling gear - he is a keen cyclist and triathlete - is piled on his office floor. "We are very different people. Simon is more introspective, I'm more outgoing but we've shared so much. I've been involved in the creation of Optimedia so there is no radical change."

But does Taylor, who has the outgoing and easy charm of an expert client handler (he has focused at Optimedia on global client relations, while helping Lloyd behind the scenes on business development), have the clout to lead forward a global network?

His years as Lloyd's number two in the international operation have furnished him with the knowledge and experience of the network and, given Optimedia's group status, it is arguable how much vision it needs at the top. Taylor's ZOG role, heading strategic resources, which covers marketing and developing its well regarded research products, will be extended to business development, but the key ZOG roles are occupied by Perriss, Steve King (head of Europe) and Rich Hamilton (head of US).

Taylor appears to be a safe pair of hands for Optimedia as it gradually moves closer to Zenith. Perriss says: "John has a real organisational capability. He's good with clients and I have been really impressed with the way he has pulled pitches together."

But does Taylor see a future for Optimedia as a network? "On its own but as part of ZOG, absolutely there is. Why wouldn't you have a business that has clients including HP and Allied Domecq? It's a brilliant time for us to join with Zenith because we've never had scale before, Taylor says.

Although Lloyd attempted to grow an international media business, its relatively small number of big global clients (HP, BA, Allied Domecq, SC Johnson) hurried the alliance with Zenith.

Taylor argues that the combination of Zenith and Optimedia is a good one: "What big multinationals want is a big consistent network. We can't lose our flair but we'll be supported by scale. Clients aren't going to be satisfied if all you can offer is a muscular discount strategy."

Optimedia's mantra of "smarter media solutions has had some success in the UK and globally, with HP and BA recently increasing their commitment.

Taylor sees his first task as extending this positioning across the network, a process already begun with the exporting of its Village@Optimedia concept to markets including the US.

Taylor has worked in media for more than 25 years. He joined Allen Brady & Marsh after a desperate few months as a quantity surveyor for Wimpey.

The early days ("each week we won a new client and everyone drank Champagne") were exchanged for the harder task of helping Publicis launch its standalone media operation and then running the UK office of Optimedia. He was replaced by Simon Mathews, who was brought in to restructure the business and inject more spirit. A wider international development role followed, a reflection perhaps of Taylor's core skills in client development.

Taylor's recent completion of an iron man challenge (a two-and-a-half mile swim followed by 112 miles on a bike and then running a marathon) hints at a steelier side.

Taylor is a safe bet for the job given that it is a watered-down role since the Zenith merger. But while Lloyd fought tigerishly for more than a decade to get the network going, it remains to be seen if Taylor's affable approach is backed by a resolve to make the network more than a satellite of Zenith.

THE TAYLOR FILE
1975: Allen Brady & Marsh, media planner/buyer
1978: FCB, media manager then deputy managing director
1992: Optimedia, UK managing director
1996: Optimedia, director of European operations, then international
operations
2002: Optimedia, chairman

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