NEWSMAKERS/ANDY TROULLIDES AND STEVE ALLAN: Odd couple at the heart of a pounds 28m media merger - Andy Troullides and Steve Allan are partners without a history. By Harriet Green

Steve Allan and Andy Troullides stand stiffly side by side under a pint-sized palm tree. At first glance, you might think they were on holiday together, except they are wearing suits - and anyway, a holiday seems unlikely because the two men have work to do.

Steve Allan and Andy Troullides stand stiffly side by side under a

pint-sized palm tree. At first glance, you might think they were on

holiday together, except they are wearing suits - and anyway, a holiday

seems unlikely because the two men have work to do.



In reality, of course, this is no beach paradise. The palm tree stands

in the glitzy new atrium of an office complex in North Gower Street,

NW1.



But it is the start of an exciting journey for Allan and Troullides.



Until last week, they hardly knew each other. That didn’t matter. It

wouldn’t even have mattered if they had hated each other. But now their

ability to forge a strong relationship will be the key to their future

happiness, and to that of many others.



Last week, Grey Advertising’s European media dependant, MediaCom Europe,

acquired the outstanding shares of the 23-year-old Media Business for a

staggering pounds 28 million. (Negotiations began early in the year, but

were halted in October after scary fluctuations in the stock market.) In

the UK, that means MediaCom London will merge with the Media

Business.



Allan Rich, chairman and chief executive of TMBG, will become chairman

and chief executive of the new set-up, to be called MediaCom/TMBG.

Troullides, 41, and Allan, 35, managing directors of MediaCom and TMBG

respectively, become joint managing directors (Campaign, last week).



Mergers commonly involve substantial redundancy programmes but, Allan

insists, not this one. ’This is not a cost-cutting exercise. This is

part of an expansion and growth plan. Double the business means double

the people.’ But Troullides accepts that, inevitably, ’we can’t do this

without some personal disappointment’.



Which brings us to their own situation. How will they share the job of

managing director? Successful partnerships of this sort are few and far

between. But George Michaelides, the Michaelides & Bednash founding

partner who worked closely with Allan during the formation of the

Bullett media brand, believes the pair are compatible: ’Their

personalities would fit. They are not egotistical, hierarchical

personalities. It’s a very good marriage.’



Of the two, it’s Troullides who seems the less dominant. For starters,

he will move with the rest of MediaCom into TMBG’s offices. (This makes

sense, as MediaCom needed to move out of its offices north of Oxford

Street anyway and TMBG’s spacious offices are more modern). Having only

visited the offices twice before, Troullides had no idea where to find

the loo or the photocopier.



Then there’s the money. Rich and Allan have been made seriously rich by

the deal and could well afford to take a 10 per cent stake in MediaCom

Europe. Troullides, on the other hand, remains a mere employee. Will

this tip the balance of power in Allan’s favour?



Troullides is more tentative and self-deprecating. He bites his nails

continuously. Admittedly, Allan also has a neurotic side - several times

he describes being ’hurt’ in the past by press coverage - but ultimately

he’s slicker, more self-confident. (A few million in the bank probably

helps.)



With claimed billings of more than pounds 500 million, the new agency

would sit second in the league table, ahead of Carat, on recent

billings. However, the latest figures from MMS - those used by Campaign

- show the two agencies’ combined billings for the year ending September

1998 to be just pounds 333 million, which puts Media COm/TMBG in sixth

place. But even on those lower figures, the two have clearly propelled

themselves into the big league.



But why do the deal? Is it a defensive move, or a positive, expansionist

one? A ’grey merger of necessity,’ as one media owner puts it? Or a

’major step in an aggressive growth-plan to extend the global reach of

the MediaCom brand,’ as Ed Meyer, president and chief executive of Grey

Advertising, insists?



The fact is that both companies have reached a plateau. MediaCom, whose

clients include Procter & Gamble, Mars and Smith-Kline Beecham, has been

looking for a UK partner to add volume locally. Slipping down the league

tables, it currently stands just inside the top 15. And TMBG has had a

difficult year, losing more than pounds 50 million in billings and

putting on just pounds 12 million. It has fiercely loyal independent

clients like Direct Line and Book Club Associates. But without a global

network or experience with major fmcg clients, it was never going to get

work from the likes of P&G. The two were stuck in the dangerous middle

ground.



To some extent, Allan and Troullides accept this. ’We got to a stage as

a business where we’d reached the top ten,’ Allan says. ’We could stay

where we are or be more ambitious. Sometimes clients might invite the

top ten or the top five to pitch. We want to make sure we get invited to

the party. It would have been incredibly difficult to get there by

organic growth.’



MediaCom, too, needed the deal, Troullides says: ’Size is important. If

you aren’t big, that’s often used against you in pitch selections. If

you’re big you have no excuses.’



But why should clients use the newly enlarged agency? MediaCom barely

registers as a personality and TMBG has always seemed insular. Won’t the

MediaCom/TMBG merger offer more of the same, only bigger? Not

surprisingly, both men deny this. ’People see MediaCom as big and

professional,’ Troullides claims, ’We have lacked a little sparkle,

we’re not sexy, or flavour of the month. But I don’t mind that because

we are in the businesses of offering professional advice to

customers.’



’People say (TMBG) is inward-looking and entrepreneurial,’ Allan says.

’As an agency we have spent more time over the years talking to our

clients than to our peers.’



Well, that’s what they say. Media owners seem split on the deal. One TV

sales director is scathing: ’It won’t make any difference. There’s still

no clout there.’ But others are more generous. Andy Barnes, Channel 4’s

director of advertising, sales and marketing, argues that it’s

unnecessary for media shops to be ’punchy and lively and sparky’. And he

says it does make a difference ’if you double your size’.



Both men insist they can learn from each other. ’We’ve all come from a

different place,’ Troullides mumbles. ’I’ve been a hired gun, a manager

for Grey Inc. The merger was never one that I’ve resisted. What was on

my mind was to make us bigger, faster. What I get from it is to work

with Steve and Allan who, as commercial people, can teach me a lot. They

started from scratch; I started with a hundred million-plus of great

billings.



I have managed my business well, but I haven’t built from scratch or

found myself waking in the middle of the night worrying where money will

come from. I bring know-how about working with major blue-chip

multinationals.’



Allan insists he has much to learn from Troullides: ’One is learning how

to co-exist within a network. That is new for us. Secondly, if you look

at their client list, it’s very much large fmcg business. We openly

acknowledge that is the business we don’t have. We’re going to learn

more about managing that kind of business and about working on a global

platform.’



As for his 10 per cent stake in the new company, Allan insists it is for

the general good: ’It was important from Grey’s point of view, and

central from mine and Allan’s, to demonstrate to our people and clients

that we are committed. We’re not just taking money from the table and

walking away.’



At the moment it’s anyone’s guess how the two will work together. They

have little idea themselves. Troullides candidly admits: ’We’ve never

even had lunch together. I feel that is quite helpful. You don’t come

with preconceptions and baggage.’



Not baggage, perhaps, but luggage. Troullides may not be going on

holiday for a while, but he must pack up his things and bring them to

North Gower Street. Let’s hope he enjoys his stay.



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