Media Headliner: Zenith bean-counter turned Publicis diplomat

Adrian Sayliss, the VivaKi UK chairman, appears to have the skills and experience - if not yet the reputation.

He may have worked at ZenithOptimedia, via Zenith Media, for 15 years. He's also a London-based Brit, so there's no question of him coming from some funny foreign market. So why did the appointment of Adrian Sayliss to the new role of UK chairman of VivaKi, the Publicis Groupe media unit, prompt the almost uniform response of: "Adrian who?"

Perhaps because he's studiously steered clear of the front line in terms of both leadership and publicity. Starting as an accountant and then occupying several senior finance jobs, he was appointed the worldwide chief operating officer of ZenithOptimedia in 2005 (a job he will now combine with the VivaKi UK role). So Sayliss, who hails from Sheffield, could be seen as the classic "bean-counter".

But, those who have worked closely with him say, he's actually proved himself as far more than that. Along with Steve King, the global chief executive of ZenithOptimedia, and Tim Jones, its chief executive in North America, Sayliss has formed part of a tight-knit team that, following on from the former chief executive John Perriss, has grown the Zenith brand from a single London office of 200 people to a global operation with more than 4,500 people in 60-plus markets.

Sayliss' role has, according to some Zenith insiders, been vital. One says: "Adrian is very, very bolted down. He was an accountant, but he's the consummate businessman and very, very tough with it. He's joined at the hip with Steve (King) and does all Steve's dirty work for him. Steve's role in life is to sell ice to the Eskimos while Adrian works out the price."

While Sayliss will clearly need this tough side in getting the new VivaKi operation off the ground, he comes across as a charming, down-to-earth family man - keen to talk about his commitment (albeit waning) to Sheffield Wednesday football club and the sporting and academic achievements of his two daughters. The new role will see him head a board that comprises the UK chief executives of Starcom MediaVest Group (Stewart Easterbrook), ZenithOptimedia (Gerry Boyle) and Digitas (Howard Geisler).

Sayliss says that he will draw on the skills he has honed over his 15 years at Zenith: "This plays to what I've done over a number of years - creating and merging offices and establishing new ventures. I've not been someone who has led one of the UK agencies involved or been involved with big UK clients, so I see that as a strength because it enables me to be accepted by people outside ZenithOptimedia."

The role is not quite the full executive one enjoyed by the likes of Philippa Brown at Omnicom Media Group (the heads of the three VivaKi agencies continue to report to the regional chiefs of their brands), but it will be vital in terms of building common technology, working practices and trading between the brands. Sayliss is also keen to emphasise that VivaKi is an internal, rather than a client- facing, brand.

In the area of trading, VivaKi UK is up and running under Chris Locke of Starcom and Chris Hayward of ZenithOptimedia, so Sayliss will focus, it seems, mainly on the product offering, especially in areas such as search, mobile, social networking and data analytics, which will sit in a central VivaKi department called the Digital Nerve Centre. Sayliss says: "These are areas we have to invest in, that we can't afford to ignore, and it's more efficient to go down this route, which will also provide greater access to things like consumer insight."

Sayliss argues that the scale of operation will enable Publicis to invest more heavily in technology and that Digitas will provide the creative spark to underpin the approach. In return, Digitas is set to get access to the ZenithOptimedia and Starcom MediaVest client lists. The problem for Sayliss, some observers say, will be in getting the different agency cultures and personalities working together effectively.

While it's true that ZenithOptimedia and Starcom MediaVest have made strides in at least talking to each other in the UK, it also seems that there's no love lost between some of the personalities involved at a more international level. Some argue that Sayliss will also face an uphill task in finding common threads between the creative culture of Digitas and the two media agencies and that his diplomatic skills will be tested to the limit in dealing with people from a Starcom background.

Iain Jacob, the chief executive of Starcom MediaVest Group EMEA, says this isn't the case and that Sayliss is well suited to the role because he has already achieved a lot in his career and is "not a rampant ego that needs to prove something". Jacob adds: "He's bright, level-headed and looks at the business case from an objective point of view. I don't think he'll have any problems with the role, especially as he's used to allowing others to run client relationships."

Sayliss says it's a challenge he's up to and that most of the building blocks are in place. And, despite the downturn, he says Publicis is fully behind him: "Publicis is regularly adding to the portfolio globally and while it will clearly focus in this on emerging markets, if there is an area of expertise that we feel needs strengthening, then I'm certain we'd get the funds together to do this."

In turn, Publicis knows that Sayliss won't be profligate in his approach.

THE LOWDOWN

Age: 48

Lives: Wanstead, East London

Family: Wife, Sally - teacher; two daughters: Alex (20) - studying politics at Nottingham University; Natasha (17) - studying at the British Fashion Retail Academy

Most treasured possession: Any iron that doesn't shank

Last book you read: Quartered Safe Out Here by George MacDonald Fraser

Interests: Golf, football, cinema

Alternative career: Retail.

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