CAMPAIGN REPORT: Top 300 Agencies - 1999: the new-media year. The e-explosion offered a raft of opportunities for new-media brands in 1999. But, Claire Beale says, it remained a slow new-business year for many agencies

If it wasn’t new in 1999, it was old, old, old. In fact, if it was new at the beginning of 1999, it was probably already looking a bit frayed around the edges by the end of the year, such was the pace of change.

If it wasn’t new in 1999, it was old, old, old. In fact, if it was

new at the beginning of 1999, it was probably already looking a bit

frayed around the edges by the end of the year, such was the pace of


New-media clients, new-media owners, newmedia strategies meant a

new-business bonanza for old-media companies, but also a whole heap of

new problems as agencies struggled to keep on top of the change-a-minute

digital world.

The year began with Freeserve ascending to become the country’s largest

internet service provider. LineOne, Netscape and Virgin Net all offered

free services as the year progressed, fuelling internet take-up and

lighting the torch that was to set the whole dotcom arena alight. By the

end of the year, the internet had 11 million users in the UK and

e-commerce spend had topped pounds 2 billion.

But while media agencies are perfectly positioned to be advertisers’

partners in the e-explosion, 1999 saw much hot air and little hot


How to get ahead in the digital era when you haven’t even caught up was

a question furrowing many wise media brows throughout the year, and many

agencies’ attempts to ride the digital wave were little more than

statements of intent masquerading as rounded new-business offerings.

Two of the more substantial new-media operations to make their debut in

1999 were and Zenith Interactive Solutions, though in

truth you didn’t need to have a new-media specialism to scoop some of

the juicy new budgets that dotcom companies were parading. After all,

building a new dotcom brand still required old-media strategies and

traditional advertising.

This slew of dotcom business did help energise what was otherwise a slow

new-business year for many agencies. Media reviews were generally either

of the mighty Volkswagen or Mars variety, or too small to crack open the

champagne for.

There were, however, some major triumphs.

MediaCom TMB - which began the year as two disparate agencies dragged to

the altar in the name of protectionism - seemed an unpromising

partnership, despite the combined size of the new outfit. Nevertheless,

MediaCom TMB was to be the star performer of 1999, netting the pounds 80

million Volkswagen account, pounds 12 million of Iceland media and

pounds 6 million of IPC business in quick succession, running up a

new-business tally of pounds 108 million by the close of the year.

Though the chief executive, Steve Allan, still has some branding and

positioning issues to sort out, the new agency could not have wished for

a better debut.

Merger also became a fact of life for two other strong performers,

Starcom and Motive. The two agencies had flirted with the possibility of

merger the year before, only to conclude emphatically that they really

couldn’t work together. By the autumn of 1999, though, politics had

driven the two back into each others’ arms. The engagement was on and

Motive’s managing director, Mark Cranmer, was in control. Together the

two agencies now boast stronger planning credentials, combined with a

bit of strategic magic. Politics, however, remains an issue. Can the two

sides overcome their initial mistrust?

And what of MediaVest, now a sister company thanks to the marriage of

Leo Group and MacManus under the BDM banner? The Starcom Motive story

has only just begun.

The MindShare machine finally got motoring in 1999, a year after it was

formed out of the merger of J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather’s

media departments. The arrival of Simon Rees as managing director and a

number of new senior executives helped give the agency a taste of

success, though it has yet to truly live up to its pre-launch promise.

Wins such as Britvic Pepsi, Mazda and Open helped remind everyone that

MindShare was a force to be reckoned with, though. Another relative

newcomer, Walker Media, also established a firm footing for itself and,

while the agency failed to convert the sort of major league business

befitting the talents of its two founders - Christine Walker and Phil

Georgiadis - its phenomenal 128 per cent growth ensures that it is ready

for that blue-chip win.

But it was one of media’s oldest brands which dominated many of the

headlines as yet more business and staff flowed out of the agency’s

doors. CIA Medianetwork was again an agency in trouble. By the end of

the year, however, the agency had installed a new chief executive, David

Wheldon, and, at last, had a permanent figurehead in charge of devising

a strategy to stop the rot. The task is an onerous one, but things could

hardly get worse, and Wheldon has the sort of outsider’s perspective

which may yet inject some new life into what looks dangerously like a

dying brand.

Yet again, though, there was a sense that whatever happened in the UK

offices of the global media networks was not nearly as important as the

strategies being hatched out on the other side of the Atlantic. Tempus’

Chris Ingram spent another year talking to ’everybody’, while True

North, Media Planning, Young & Rubicam, Omnicom and Interpublic Group

all wondered what they should be doing in the UK market. Expect the US

giants to pull their UK media strings in 2000. In fact, the scene is now

set for another series of major media shake-ups and consolidations and

next year’s league tables will surely reflect some radical shifts in the

year ahead.


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