CHRISTINE WALKER INTERVIEW: Walker prepares to embark on a fresh start without Zenith Media

Do you think the events of the past week were personal?

Do you think the events of the past week were personal?

Only in that (John) Perriss has seen people like (David) Pattison and

(Jonathan) Durden and Colin Gottlieb making capital gains, and now he

has the opportunity. He’s turned down chances to move in the past. But

he’s not actually that courageous. He’s been a Saatchi boy from Garland

Compton days. It’s safe. They will clearly claim victory, but I can live

with that as long as I know why I’m doing it.

Surely you can manage without Zenith staff and clients?

Of course, and one of the great joys of starting like this is that I’m

free of corporate issues to work on their business, but if I’m caught in

a bloody big high-profile court case, it doesn’t actually wash, does it?

I’m trying to keep a level head here and work out what’s in my long-term


My concern is that a number of those clients are personal friends, and I

could be having dinner with somebody and there could be a suggestion

that I’m soliciting.

What do you do? Do you have to get them to swear you haven’t solicited


Yes, every time I get an invite to play tennis or have dinner or lunch,

or whatever. I’ll write after and say thanks. Oh, and just for the

avoidance of doubt ... I’m happy to do that. But I’m furious with them


So, how hard is it to start a media company from scratch?

Very hard, but not impossible, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it. There

is business out there. I’ve had advertisers express sympathy for me.

It’s very nice. But it doesn’t mean they’ll give me business. I do

believe there is some big business out there that would consider a

start-up with my credentials.

I’m not naive, though.

What’s in it for people who are first in?

Founders! Founders! General Foods (now part of Kraft Jacob Suchard) was

a founder client of mine at Ray Morgan and Partners. I love them to

death. I worked on their business for 21 years. Founder clients are very

special. They can help with the development of the business. Of course

they need to know, I have systems etc, but I’ll be doing negotiations


Do you think media owners will be receptive to you?

I know I will get a lot of goodwill from media owners. That tends to be

the way of things. Once you’re running, of course, it’s going to be

fisticuffs. But clearly, I have a view that this company is not going to

be small for long.

But it would still be brave of a big client?

This is where trust comes in. And, people who make brave decisions are

often rewarded.

As of 1 January, what will be special about you without a huge entity

called Zenith behind you?

Well, yeah, that’s fair enough. One, personal service, which, when you

have 300-odd clients, like at Zenith, it’s clearly difficult to give all

of them the attention they need. I do have very good backers in M&C

Saatchi and, attitudinally, we’re the same.

We’re both street fighters. And, after 20 years in the business, some

people will take a calculated gamble that I will create a new company

with excellent talent.

Clearly, the media market is going into ever bigger blocks, but actually

there’s a horrible sameyness in the market. And a lot of them are

majoring now on systems. I’m not stupid enough to say you don’t need

systems, but IT doesn’t differentiate you - people do. I’m absolutely

convinced of that.

Does this mean we’re going to see some famous names being hired?

The famous names that you and I have not heard of yet. A lot of people

have approached me to be partners. Maybe there will be a star name. But

I want to present this company to the talent market as not just a place

that’s going to go and get a Mark Craze or Phil Georgiadis. They’re very

expensive and my business plan already stinks. I think you can work out

I’m going to pay myself a fraction of my former salary.

My partners are really, really behind this to be a success. They are, in

turn, my ambassadors, and I think they’re pretty damn good


Why didn’t you go with M&C Saatchi in the first place?

I have to tell you that at that point my husband was very, very ill.

It was all I could do to cope. I just couldn’t contemplate it. As things

have turned out, since then I’ve been very lucky in the private side of

my life, having perhaps been unlucky.

With a universal acceptance now of the importance of planning in the

media market, where are your planning credentials?

Um, yeah, I’m seen at the business negotiator end of the market. M&C

Saatchi has media planning capabilities. Andrew Sherman is a very bright


The media company of the 21st century cannot ignore planning, but it

still needs size. Yeah, I’m going to try to attract good strategic


What about the Optimedia relationship?

Optimedia has no contractual relationship whatsoever with Walker


I know of Optimedia what the outside world knows. Its contractual

relationship is with M&C Saatchi. As for my own international ambitions,

for the time being the UK will do.

Do you accept the other prevailing wisdom that you have to be one of the

top ten buying points to really compete?

As scale has become less and less of a differential, that actually

creates the opportunity. Yes, it’s important.

I believe I have the ability to get to a scale position reasonably

quickly. But I haven’t been able to do anything yet, so I don’t know.

People will often indicate things to you, but that doesn’t mean you’ll

get their business.

You’re going into this with a blank sheet of paper. Is there anything

you’ve seen that media is crying out for?

I have to say I’m not going into this to be niche. I want a full-spec

media offering, be it consultancy, be it creative new media. I also

think it must be possible to break into the TV supply chain a bit

earlier, rather than waiting for Johnny Sponsorship to come along and

offer the finished programme. I do think there must be a way, and I do

think that over the years I’ve got to know the right people at the top

ends of the right companies.

The thing is, no two clients are the same. I’m fanatical about this.

I think media companies, partly because of the pressure on margins, take

a catch-all approach. I’m going to try not to do that and really

approach it all with a much flatter structure.

Well, it’s easy to be flat when there’s just one of you. Are you going

to seek any and every piece of business?

I do not have a snobbish view of, for example, off-the-screen


I’m interested in retail, grocery or electrical or whatever, but you

need not to be distracted by winning for the sake of a win.

Do you think - given the big personalities of your backers - you’ll be

able to convince other agencies of your total independence?

I think, increasingly, companies take the view that the world now is not

about owning it. That was the proposition of the 70s and 80s. Who would

have believed five years ago that Carlton and Granada would be facing

the digital world together?

Are you in any way worried that without having Zenith behind you, you

have lost your influence?

No, I’m not worried, maybe I should be. Of course I don’t have the scale

yet. But, like a lot of things in life, that’s why you shouldn’t be rude

to the cleaners or the graduate trainee. This world happens at a


Yesterday’s brand manager is today’s chief executive. If I don’t believe

in myself I may as well have taken one of those other jobs, which -

financially - would have been very attractive. I felt that if I didn’t

do it now, I wouldn’t do it.

Are you obsessed with growing organically or will you make acquisitions

and deals?

It doesn’t matter. Don’t forget my partners are behind this all the way.

I’ve already had a call from Maurice saying, ’I think you and I might go

and see so-and-so.’ What am I going to say? No? But, I am personally

very keen on the idea of joint ventures.

You have to develop your company as it happens. That sounds almost

crazy, like you haven’t got any strategy. But you never know what a

client may become.

So, how big do you need to be?

I don’t want to commit to a size that you’ll hold against me, but I

don’t want to be Mr Patel’s corner shop either. If I do end up being Mr

Patel’s corner shop, I’ll shoot myself.

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