VCCP builds media offer with Adconnection deal

The agency is poised to triple its ad buying presence - with media and creative under one roof, Gideon Spanier writes.

Becker, Mead and Coleman (l-r): looking to differentiate VCCP Media from network agencies
Becker, Mead and Coleman (l-r): looking to differentiate VCCP Media from network agencies

Adrian Coleman, one of the founders of the ad agency VCCP, describes it as "reintegration". Others call it the return of "full service". But the thinking behind this week’s acquisition by VCCP of Adconnection, to create a top 20 UK media agency, is clear.

VCCP wants to reunite media buying with creative and all other disciplines, such as public relations, content creation and sports marketing, under one roof.

The creative shop, known for work such as the meerkats for Comparethemarket.com and "be more dog" for O2, has been experimenting with media for nearly a decade. VCCP Media, its buying arm, was founded as a search business in 2006.

Acquiring Adconnection trebles VCCP Media’s scale to about £50 million in billings and gives it planning and buying know-how, especially in offline media such as TV and press.

The deal is notable because VCCP Media and Adconnection are among a small breed of independent media agencies in a sector dominated by global giants backed by WPP and Omnicom.

Catherine Becker, Adconnection’s chief executive who will take the same role at VCCP Media, believes her 14-year-old agency has thrived because it buys for each client, rather than on a group basis to suit the agency.

"We are very differentiated from the networks and, in many cases, other independents," she says. "We have line-by-line reporting. So when we trade, it’s what is right for the client, not an overall agency deal or a pool of business."

Big media agency group deals don’t tend to benefit smaller clients with less than £15-20 million to spend because it’s the biggest clients who do best out of them, according to VCCP Media’s non-executive chairman, Marc Mendoza.

What is more, savvy clients increasingly want a "full-service proposition" because they recognise that keeping media and creative apart makes less sense. "Clients never asked for the disintermediation of media and creative," Mendoza says, recalling the split in the 90s.

It’s not just that the lines between the different disciplines that are blurring and, in the words of Coleman, "content, social, PR and so on are all dancing around the same handbag". The creative execution can also happen in real time because media is being bought on a targeted, personalised basis at scale.

Paul Mead, VCCP Media’s founder, says: "There is a lot of excitement about how the integration of media can help with the creative. The more you understand about what is possible technically [with digital media], it changes your creative thinking. The way we understand the last moment [when the creative is served] has a long way to go."

Adconnection’s 42 staff will move into VCCP’s headquarters in Victoria alongside the existing 20-strong media unit and, crucially, they will be in the same building as all the other VCCP teams – with a single P&L.

Some big groups have tried to bring all the disciplines under one roof such as Havas, with its Havas Village, and Omnicom, with its Bankside home by the Thames. But Mendoza is sceptical: "They are different teams with different P&Ls. I know. I’ve been inside some of them. The staff don’t know each other." It can also be more profitable for them to keep media and creative apart, according to Mead.

The Adconnection sale, along with the recent success enjoyed by the7stars and Essence, suggests independent media agencies can thrive, despite all the talk of media being a closed shop.

But Mead believes too many big agencies are stuck in a 90s mentality and have not embraced change. "There should be more start-ups," he says.

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