MEDIA HEADLINER: Norman brings his passion to Mediaedge:cia rollercoaster

Whatever changes Norman makes, the outcome will be bloody, Jeremy Lee predicts.

Well, here we go again. The Mediaedge:cia management rollercoaster took another turn last week with the news that Fiona McAnena was being replaced as the head of the UK agency. This came as no great surprise - the merged agency's first year of existence can kindly be described as traumatic, with a seemingly endless list of clients walking out the door. This led to the inevitable question of whether McAnena was right for the job.

But in a marked change of direction, the group's management has chosen a media man, Rob Norman, to take on the role that has been described as the job nobody wants. McAnena, you may recall, joined from Tempus' brand consultancy, Added Value, and was the latest in a line of non-media chief executives to run the agency.

Norman is variously described as "passionate", "odd", "unhinged", "bright", "enthusiastic", "loyal" and "flamboyant" by his contemporaries in the traditional media world. In person, he certainly can talk. And quickly, constantly and with an enthusiasm that sometimes borders on over-excitability.

He seems bright - it's not often that you meet a collector of books on the 19th century French exploration of Indo-China. Wags might claim that this affection for fallen empires could explain his loyalty to the tarnished CIA brand.

Norman is certainly excited with his first plan - a major renovation of Mediaedge:cia's Paris Gardens headquarters. But he won't yet be drawn on what reconstruction work he'll be carrying out at the agency. "I've got to find out what I've got first," he says.

While Mediaedge:cia has a strong network, the UK offering has become something of an ugly sister, both within its own network and within the domestic market. Its WPP sister, MindShare, on the other hand, with its plush Strand offices and top-drawer management team, seems to be WPP's favoured child.

Norman wants to change this. While he acknowledges that there have been problems with the levels of client review, some of the criticism is just perception. "I want the UK to be the benchmark office," he states.

But haven't we been here before with McAnena and, indeed, her predecessor, David Wheldon? "Fiona and James (Whitmore, the Mediaedge:cia managing director) are not extroverts. I am. I'm going to be out there changing the perception of the agency," Norman says. "Passion goes a long way.

I want to find out what clients are passionate about and equip our senior management team to plan with informed prejudice." Informed prejudice is Norman's expression for media neutrality.

It's impossible to doubt either Norman's passion or his enthusiasm to change the agency and, after 17 years within CIA, most recently as the worldwide director of new-business development, there is no questioning his loyalty, which might have something to do with his reputation as Chris Ingram's "blue-eyed boy".

But the perception is that Norman faces fundamental problems because the senior management team just isn't there. After all, there aren't many star names at Mediaedge:cia and the bookish Whitmore, while responsible for running a neat operation at The Media Edge, has hardly turned the world upside down. "James is very much his own person - he doesn't try to be luvvy. I have no reason to doubt him," Norman says.

While Norman is unwilling to discuss the structural changes he is considering at Mediaedge:cia, his contemporaries say that he is both shrewd and tough enough to make them. "He was very much Chris Ingram's protege and is immensely passionate. Rob will run around the place enthusing people but he is smart enough to know when changes need to be made," Greg Grimmer, an executive director at ZenithOptimedia, says.

Everyone has a view on what changes are needed. After all, the agency seems to have been on a seemingly endless downward spiral since 1996, when an embarrassing trading dispute between CIA and the ITV sales house Laser came to the fore. Even the agency's enforced marriage with The Media Edge has failed to turn around its reputation.

However, while the media market seems over-supplied, Mediaedge:cia, with its network and WPP parent, is too big just to go away. Most observers recommend Norman relinquishes all of its buying to its better-resourced sister on The Strand and re-invent itself as a cerebral planning agency, similar to the old The Media Edge. Although it's not going to be easy, given the agency's long heritage, it's not impossible and there are obvious comparisons with Garry Lace's task at Grey. If the Grey experience is anything to go by, it could be bloody.

THE NORMAN FILE

1986: CIA, planner/buyer to group head

1988: WM Media, media manager to managing director

1994: CIA Interactive, founder and managing director

1997: Prisma Sports and CIA, senior vice-president

1998: Outrider Worldwide, founder and chief executive

2003: Mediaedge:cia, chairman, UK holdings

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