MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ON: WESTERN INTERNATIONAL MEDIA - Western lays down a strategy for achieving its renaissance - Can Mike Tunnicliffe really put Western back on top? Alasdair Reid investigates

Has the tide turned at Western International Media? Throughout the 80s, under a series of classy media directors - Chris Morley was succeeded by Mark Cranmer who passed the baton to the double act of Mike Smallwood and Andy Troullides - the Lowe Howard-Spink media department became the best in the business by a mile.

Has the tide turned at Western International Media? Throughout the

80s, under a series of classy media directors - Chris Morley was

succeeded by Mark Cranmer who passed the baton to the double act of Mike

Smallwood and Andy Troullides - the Lowe Howard-Spink media department

became the best in the business by a mile.



It was the Rolls Royce - or, as they preferred to say internally, the

BMW 8 Series (bigger on performance than heritage) - of media. But by

the time the department was ready to relaunch as Western in 1997, it had

managed to evolve into a Vauxhall Cavalier with fading go-faster

stripes.



Western’s troubleshooter is Mike Tunnicliffe, who joined as managing

director last August. He’s spent six months fighting defensive battles,

like holding on to the previously unassailable Vauxhall account. Last

week, he announced that the renaissance had begun. He has poached

Carat’s new-business director, Lawrence Janes, to head Western’s

marketing and new-business efforts.



But lest you be discouraged from hanging up the bunting just yet,

Tunnicliffe hints that this is merely the start. More appointments will

follow and Janes’ signing (his immediate role will be to remind the

world of Western’s enduring strengths and virtues) speaks volumes about

the company’s determination to get back on track. Tunnicliffe’s vision

is for Western to become a sexy strategic communications planning

specialist in the New PHD or Manning Gottlieb mould.



Possible? The Lowe Group’s biggest mistake was its failure to admit that

the full-service agency died in the UK at about the same time that

Margaret Thatcher was forced from office. While other agencies began

spinning off their media departments as standalone specialist companies

with first-rate management commitment, branding and resource, Lowe not

only missed the boat, it let the tide go out too.



There were two reasons for that. First, arrogance - it thought that

being the best was good enough. Or at least it was more important than

notions of structure. Wrong.



But its second problem was (and perhaps still is) far more serious.

Senior management just didn’t understand the 90s media revolution. And

Lowe’s chairman, Frank Lowe, certainly wasn’t going to get a wake-up

call from his Interpublic bosses in the US, because independently

operated media planning and buying specialists have only just started to

creep on to the agenda over there.



So the Lowe Group’s more recent attempts to play catch-up have been

reluctant and somewhat weird. Botched attempts to buy New PHD and CIA

three years ago and, more recently, MGM, hit the credibility of the Lowe

Group management in the media world. There has also been on-off

speculation about whether Western really has a long-term future and

whether it will inevitably be swallowed up into a greater IPG media

operation.



So, until Western can prove that it really has unequivocal backing, all

bets will be off. Meanwhile, there will be more immediate questions to

be asked of Tunnicliffe and his new team. Can they really hope to play

in the same league as New PHD? After all, Tunnicliffe himself is from a

very different background - the CIA school of hard knocks but also of

hard-nosed business. And an injection of strategic planning talent must

go to the top of the agenda. There’s the respected planning director,

Robbie McIntosh, of course. But if excellence is to be built around him,

why doesn’t he already have a higher profile and greater status in the

company?



Clients, both existing and prospective, will like to know the answers to

those and other questions. Most of all, they’ll be curious to see

whether it’s really possible to throw off the heritage of nearly a

decade’s worth of clumsy mistakes and missed opportunities.



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