WORLD: MEDIA ANALYSIS - Media strategists expand out of Soho to conquer the world

A wave of media strategists is spreading out around the globe, Alasdair Reid writes.

WPP's Nylon is the latest in a burst of announcements indicating that media strategists are going global.

Michaelides & Bednash has been in New York for three years and is investigating a Tokyo office. Meanwhile, Naked is making no secret of its imminent launch in Sydney and is also eyeing up the Nordics and New York. The Ingram Partnership has set its sights on being a global player too. And local operations such as The Media Kitchen in New York, WPP's Nota Bene in South Africa and Omnicom's Da Vinci in Germany are growing in stature and reputation.

So how successful have the London shops been in developing their proposition overseas?

Despite claims that US advertisers would not understand what the M&B offering was all about, its New York office has picked up Elle magazine, Oprah Winfrey's Oxygen Media network and J&B whisky. This last win is perhaps the most significant as it means that M&B (and therefore communications strategy as a whole) is on the radar at one of the world's largest blue-chip clients, Diageo.

But that's not all. Unilever has appointed M&B in Europe on its spreads brands and also as consultants on an internal initiative to promote more innovative approaches to communications. If we read between the lines of the speech given by Alan Rutherford, the worldwide media director of Unilever, at a recent conference in Seville, more Unilever tasks are likely to flow M&B's way. Rutherford praised the sorts of strategic insights that the fusion of account planning and communications planning can deliver.

So are the likes of M&B transforming from local curiosities into international networks?

Graham Bednash, a founder of M&B, reasons that you can't roll out a network of communications strategists like you would an old-fashioned advertising agency network. M&B also believes it can service all of Europe from its London office; the only other location it would consider is Tokyo.

But he does believe something important is in the offing, commenting: "We're seeing a step change as companies such as General Motors are saying they have to find new ways of connecting. I think that sent a few shockwaves through the industry in the US."

Naked's immediate focus, however, is Sydney, where Bellamy Hayden is the closest equivalent to a media strategy shop.

Does Phil Hayden, one of the agency's founders, have any advice for Naked?

Not directly, he says. But he adds: "Australia is dominated by global strategies and hence a greater market share lies in the hands of global advertising agencies and media agencies than in the UK. Our clients are more innovative and pioneering in their thinking than the norm."

So the market may be small and already cornered. John Harlow, one of Naked's founders, thinks this hasn't been fully tested as there is nothing quite like Naked in any of the markets he is targeting. He comments: "There are media planning and strategy companies in Sydney but they are rooted in an advertising view of the world."

And that is the crux of the matter. Naked believes it is at the vanguard of a revolutionary change in the way the ad business is structured. The question is whether the rest of the business sees the world in those terms.

In that respect, the real test is New York. If Naked launches there, it will join M&B, Nylon and The Media Kitchen.

According to Martin Thomas, a partner at Nylon, New York lags behind London and even cities such as Amsterdam and Paris. "When we first talked to people in New York about this, it was like talking Swahili. Unbundling media in the US is new, but we've been unbundling in the UK for years."

Paul Woolmington, the chairman and chief executive of The Media Kitchen, warns that Naked may face an uphill struggle in the risk-averse US advertising culture. "Generally speaking, you have to know who you're dealing with. It could take Naked a while." Yet he concedes that the US market is so big that you can build a business without being an agency of record on a handful of blue-chip accounts.

The declining power of broadcast could also be timely for more strategy-, rather than spot-driven, schedules. He concludes: "The interesting thing will be whether Naked will want to sell equity to a big group. While there are some cautionary tales, I would think they have cause to be optimistic."

THE GLOBAL STRATEGISTS

Michaelides & Bednash

Launched: London 1994, New York 2001. Tokyo office under discussion

Proposition: "A creative communications agency. We develop ideas that

give brands a life in popular culture."

Ownership: Privately owned

Founders: Graham Bednash, George Michaelides

Clients include: Unilever Family Brands Europe, Diageo J&B Scotch,

Channel 4, Reed Elsevier

NAKED

Launched: London 2000, Amsterdam 2003. Sydney, the Nordics and New York

offices planned

Proposition: "Naked takes a 'joined up' view of communication

opportunities and channels."

Founders: Will Collin, John Harlow, Jon Wilkins

Clients include: Boots, Orange, Honda, COI Communications, Abbey, 118

118, Emap, Selfridges, Loot, TDK

NYLON

Launched: London 2004. A New York office will open later this year

Proposition: "Nylon is about how to get brands woven into the day-to-day

experience of people."

Ownership: WPP

Founders: Tony Regan, Pru Parkinson, Martin Thomas

Clients: include Lego, Xerox

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