It's none too easy getting to the top of the tree, and trickier staying there when you have a raft of competitors rattling the branches. The WPP-owned MediaCom, however, is sitting pretty and, thanks to its considerable billings, proving unshakable. So much so, it can lose a major client -such as, say, Boots - and still stay on its perch.
The WPP agency started 2008 on a particularly high note, becoming the first UK media agency to reach £1 billion in billings (based on unofficial figures that include online spend). The agency retained the top spot in terms of billings for the sixth year in a row and even managed to grow its business by more than 7.5 per cent. Even more impressive when you consider that it was that not long ago a lot of top-level talent at the agency left to go to the WPP trading arm GroupM.
The year was fruitful in terms of new business. MediaCom picked up major accounts such as E.ON, GMG Radio, Sportingbet, MiTAC and Dell (worth £35 million in the UK). Another coup was taking the digital side of MediaCom's Volkswagen account from under the nose of Tribal DDB. MediaCom also retained its clients Norwich and Peterborough, Navman and the Scottish Executive.
But it hasn't been all rosy on the client side. For the first time that most in the industry can remember, MediaCom actually lost a big client. And not just any client: its £46 million Boots business. MediaCom shouldn't have too many difficulties getting a replacement retail client and while it was a blow, it helped to keep the agency on its toes (though those at MediaCom argue that complacency is anathema to them, with their sort of success it would be hard not to become a little self-satisfied).
2008 was a momentous year for the Media-Com team. Nick Lawson left his UK chief executive role to expand the agency's European markets as the EMEA chief executive at the behest of the Media-Com worldwide chief executive, Stephen Allan. Lawson's long-serving right-hand woman Jane Ratcliffe replaced him. While Ratcliffe brings a different leadership style (he led from the front, she's more collaborative), the move is in line with the agency's tendency to keep it in the family when making senior appointments.
Ratcliffe did not waste much time in shaking up the management structure. Instead of appointing a sole replacement managing director, she set up a new management board divided into three units: commercial and finance; trading; and business solutions, with each unit headed up by senior members of the MediaCom team.
The commercial director, David Jowett, and the financial director, Damien Glackin, head the commercial and finance unit; Steve Bignell, the former broadcast director and Claudine Collins, the former group press director, lead the trading unit; and Sean Healey, the former strategic solutions director, and Jason Theodore, the former head of account management, drive the business solutions division. All of which reinforced the team focus, with senior members getting a stake in the running of the agency.
MediaCom's work in 2008 earned it many accolades, with standout campaigns including Twix, Nokia, Pedigree, Aquafresh, Skittles and VW's Observer Film Quarterly. The staff churn rate remained low at 17.5 per cent and the agency's "putting people first" mantra went into action with initiatives such as the "If I Ran The Company" competition, in which all staff get the chance to say what they would do if they ran the company.
On her appointment, Ratcliffe set herself the task of building on growth at the agency's regional offices. She starts from a good base. In 2008, MediaCom in Scotland grew 43 per cent, the agency also saw growth in its business science unit of 30 per cent, and the search division grew 34 per cent. MediaCom also set up a dedicated mobile division, MediaCom Mobile, drafting in David Fieldhouse, a former executive at the mobile agency Incentivated, to lead the operation. All of which made MediaCom a tough act to be up against in 2008, and puts it in a strong position for a challenging 2009.
Mediaedge:cia MEC was last year's Agency of the Year, so surely a lower profile was on the cards for 2008? Not so. The WPP agency upturned the industry theory that a highly successful year is followed by a cooling-off period and pulled off a major coup in winning the £75 million Orange account.
The Orange win was part of a great new- business run that kept MEC at or around the top of the new-business league. Under the leadership of the chief executive, Tom George, the agency won four out of the five COI pitches that took place in 2008, including pandemic influenza, stroke awareness and hepatitis C prevention. It also secured its first major motor client with Alfa Romeo. Other wins included United Biscuits, MBNA and Aegon.
The agency also made key hirings including Farhan Miah, who joined as its head of paid search from 24/7 Real Media, and Paul Wright from Blue Barracuda as the head of affiliates. The agency also promoted Sarah Hennessy to client services director and Michael Beecroft from the broadcast team to become the agency's first head of digital trading.
Though the agency went on to triumphant gains, it had a shaky start to the year with the loss of Nationwide and it said goodbye to the former joint managing director Toby Jenner. Steve Hatch ably took on the role of managing director and the agency bolstered its senior team with the appointment of the former Carat commercial director Alex Altman as its deputy managing director.
Having Orange as a client will make for a very interesting 2009 for MEC as it matures into the big league.
OMD 2008 has been another strong year for OMD, especially in new-business terms. Its capture of the £46 million Boots account, when added to the £43 million Renault win (part of a consolidation across the EMEA region), made for impressive reading and shows an agency group in rude health.
Under the leadership of the group chief executive, Steve Williams, OMD also boasted an impressive client retention rate in pitches - keeping hold of the Channel 4 business in a hotly contested process was no mean feat.
OMD maintained its number two position in the market in billings terms and invested heavily in its planning product, Influence, in a bid to retain some differentiation. It also put resource behind its digital operations with the hiring of Matt Simpson from Starcom MediaVest as the head of OMD Group Digital, and also hired Will Smyth as its digital planning director from Wieden & Kennedy.
Despite employing 200 new staff at OMD, the company's staff churn rate remains impressively low at 16 per cent. This, together with the stability of its senior management team, continues to bode well for the future.
Recent winners: Mediaedge:cia (2007); Carat (2006); PHD (2005); Mindshare (2004); Mindshare (2003)
February: Retains its status as the number-one media agency for the sixth year in a row, according to 2007 Nielsen Media Research billings data, and claims unofficial billings of £1 billion.
April: Wins TUI Travel's £12 million media planning and buying account after a shoot-out with the Aegis agency Carat. The incumbents were Walker Media and Media Planning Group.
August: The MediaCom UK chief executive, Nick Lawson, is appointed to the newly created role of chief executive, MediaCom EMEA. Lawson is replaced by his number two at MediaCom UK, Jane Ratcliffe, the former MediaCom UK managing director. The changes are instigated by the incoming MediaCom worldwide chief executive, Stephen Allan. MediaCom wins E.ON's £30 million media planning and buying account business. The account was formerly handled by Zed Media.
November: MediaCom puts in place a new management team under the new UK chief executive Ratcliffe. Rather than appointing a sole managing director, Ratcliffe, who was promoted in September, has put in place a management board divided into three units: commercial and finance; trading; and business solutions.