Feature

Media Headliner: From Hollywood and Cannes to the M1 services

Admedia's MD, Adam Mills, tells Anne Cassidy why he's happy in his new environment - even if it's less than glamorous.

It's not bog media," Adam Mills asserts, baulking slightly at the suggestion that his new job amounts to pasting up ads in toilets. Washroom activities are just one part of the offering down at the outdoor outfit Admedia, its new managing director says. But, he concedes, he hasn't exactly landed the most glamorous job in advertising. Mills, previously a board director at Carlton Screen Advertising (now DCM), says: "My media world has been Hollywood, Angelina Jolie and Cannes, and now it's Batchwood services."

Mills is replacing renowned adland face Garry Lace, who surprised many by surfacing at the company in June last year, and then, in a characteristically dramatic twist, quit the media owner after less then a year to return to launch his own ad agency. Mills points out he will have a different approach to his high-profile predecessor. "His reputation precedes him, doesn't it? He's good at PR," Mills says. "I'm very different."

Admedia was founded in 1995 by two lawyers, Philip Vecht and Jonathan Naggar, looking for a new direction after law lost its appeal. A gap in the market was spotted and the name Admedia created as a nod to their ideas being outside of the media mainstream: it is an anagram of the words "mad idea".

The concept turned out to be not so daft after all and the company now operates 23,000 washroom displays, more than 1,000 six-sheets and engages in experiential marketing in motorway services, clubs, pubs and leisure and shopping centres across the country. It is the leading player in service-station advertising, holding a contract with every motorway station in the UK.

However, it has ambitious expansion plans. Vecht, who is the chief executive of the operation (his founding partner Naggar is still involved in an advisory capacity), says: "The potential for organic growth for Admedia, with new formats and new venues, is huge." The company's experien-tial unit, headed by Stephen Connor, who was appointed by Lace from the poster specialist Fitting Exposure in February this year, is one area ripe for development.

Mills' appointment, Vecht says, marks a new phase for the company: "Adam is a brilliant guy with a completely different heritage than Garry. He has different ideas and the right qualities to lead a great team here."

This heritage includes experience of both sides of the media fence. Mills began his career in the late 80s as a media manager with Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, before a move to Carat as a media planner and buyer. After a stint at the publisher Centaur, he joined Carlton in 1994. Mills left the company when its parent ITV sold the business in July last year.

Since then, Mills has been travelling around the world with his family while the UK economy sank into recession. It wasn't quite the welcome home Mills had been hoping for but he was determined to move away from working for a big corporation like ITV, and was enticed by the flexibility and autonomy offered by Admedia.

He explains: "Admedia is an independent company, with strong foundations. It doesn't owe any-one vast amounts of money and it doesn't belong to a large holding company."

While the glamour stakes may not be high at Admedia, Mills sees strong similarities between outdoor and cinema as both have to battle to get on advertisers' schedules. But he believes Admedia is well placed as an out-of-home specialist because of the uniqueness of its offering: "Posters are catching a bit of a cold now. For me, it's irrelevant. I don't see Admedia as having to hang around and wait for its share. It wouldn't be in existence now if that were the case."

But not all clients will want their posters sitting outside a service station cafe, or above a urinal for that matter, and Mills admits he won't be ringing up the marketing director of Chanel any time soon. But, for the right advertiser, Admedia can deliver and while the environment may be far from alluring, it has impact. As Mills tactfully puts it: "It's an area where people focus and spend a lot of dwell time."

Products or services targeting specifically a male or female audience are served well by Admedia's offering, as are snacks, confectionery or car-related products or services.

"People don't go into service stations to browse, they go in for very specific things. If you're try-ing to get people to buy a Kit Kat, it's a fairly specific message and a quick buy. We're very targeted," Mills explains.

The company also offers a talking poster network, whereby posters use an infrared beam that detects when someone is standing opposite and plays 30 seconds of audio (advertisers that have used the format include Nivea for Men and Max Factor). While there is not currently large take-up for digital posters, Mills says, going digital will be something to consider when the time is right.

And it seems that Mills' approach and his good contacts at agencies will be an asset to Admedia. Steve Platt, the trading director at Aegis Media, describes Mills as "charismatic, larger than life". He is popular in the industry and while growth is on the horizon, and the company expects to announce some new propositions very soon, Mills intends to keep his focus on the agency's core business and attract new advertisers: "The bottom line is we've got a very strong product to sell."

THE LOWDOWN

Age: 42

Lives: Harpenden, Hertfordshire

Family: Wife, Jen; Lauren (four) and Eddie (nearly two)

Most treasured possession: An old Alfa Spider

Alternative career: Mountain guide

Interests outside work: Currently training for a triathlon, getting my daughter to do the front crawl without swallowing two gallons of water, rebuilding our house

Last book read: The Elephant's Child by Rudyard Kipling (to my kids last Sunday night)

Motto: There is no such thing as bad weather... you are just wearing the wrong clothes

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