MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ON: ZENITH MEDIA - Zenith acts to sharpen profile of strategic planning activity. But Alasdair Reid wonders if it is possible to change a company culture so easily

If you want to rebrand, regroup or restructure, do it now. The media planning and buying industry is taking an extended time out, a period of intense navel-gazing. It’s been a long time since so many eyes were off so many balls.

If you want to rebrand, regroup or restructure, do it now. The

media planning and buying industry is taking an extended time out, a

period of intense navel-gazing. It’s been a long time since so many eyes

were off so many balls.



Interpublic is still trying to sort out Western and work out how it and

its other two outfits, Initiative and Universal, all dovetail

together.



MediaVest is about to merge with Leo Burnett’s media department. CIA

Medianetwork has just taken the innovative step of laying off its better

known staff.



Carat has just lost its media planning director. MindShare has only been

in business a matter of weeks and is still waiting for its bells and

whistles to be delivered.



This is as good a time as any for Zenith Media to relaunch. Again. When

Zenith first launched a decade ago, it was admirably clear about its

branding.



It was always going to be big, tough, mean, uncompromising. It was

Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney playing the Richardson gang.



Then the market moved on. Meanness became less fashionable, superseded

by the notion that cleverer could be better. So the planning guru, Andy

Tilley, was brought in to show that Zenith could be mean and clever.

No-one was ever convinced.



At the high point of Tilley’s mission to darkest Paddington, Zenith

employed six people to look after pounds 250 million of planning

business. Saatchi & Saatchi - a fellow Cordiant company - was always

happy to put this in perspective by pointing out that it had 25 staff to

look after pounds 90 million of planning business.



And there was internal resistance too. ’Don’t give me all this flaky

stuff,’ was the notoriously brusque response of Christine Walker, now

the chief executive of Walker Media, when she was asked about the

importance of strategic planning during a 1994 interview. Walker

steadfastly refused to review remuneration methods so that clients could

pay for planning services on a fee basis - thus making this side of the

business self-liquidating rather than appearing on the books as an

alarmingly big overhead.



Walker has obviously moved on, and Zenith has a new team of the chief

executive, Graham Duff, and the managing director, Simon Marquis, now in

place. But has Zenith really changed? According to insiders, Marquis has

become increasingly irritated with the fact that he spends so much time

in presentations talking about strategic planning -and all the client

wants to know is ’how cheap will it be?’.



Last week, he acted, promoting a whole tier of middle managers to the

position of managing partner. It is intended to send a signal that

Zenith has become more focused on the particular communications needs of

particular clients.



Mick Desmond, the chief executive of Granada Media Sales, maintains that

Zenith has been on the right track for some time now. He states: ’I

think the appointment of Simon Marquis was inspired. He is a different

type of networker to Christine, but very good in his own right. And I

think it’s good that Zenith has recognised at last that strategic

planning was previously all smoke and mirrors - Tilley is an incredibly

bright guy, but there was no way he could spin all those plates.

Meanwhile, its buying remains as strong and as efficient as ever. Zenith

is actually in a better position than most of its rivals.’



Critics persist, however. They argue that media brands, just like all

brands, have their own momentum. And corporate cultures evolve

slowly.



They can’t be changed on a whim. According to the boss of one rival,

Zenith seems obsessed with trying to graft a starred French restaurant

on to the side of a McDonald’s. He doubts the wisdom of this and says

Zenith should stick to its knitting.



Sue Oriel, head of commercial development at Channel 4, knows the

company well. She states: ’Simon Marquis gives an excellent balance to a

previously rather TV dominated management structure. I feel certain that

he will look to develop both people and activities that seriously

reflect the company’s desire to build this part of its business. My

recent experience has definitely confirmed that they are happy to

undertake new activities and to work with clients who wish to take new,

even experimental routes to the consumer.’



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