CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/BT MEDIA PITCH - Starcom and MediaVest pull together to snatch BT

The two agencies haven't always been on such good terms, Jeremy Lee reports.

The combined effort of Starcom Motive and MediaVest in securing the £22 million BT press buying account marked a watershed for the two media shops. Publicly, at least, it was the first time that the two Publicis Groupe-owned agencies had co-operated on a pitch.

While some were startled that things had gone so well at the first attempt, the victory was all the more surprising because relations between Starcom Motive and MediaVest have traditionally been at best unclear and at worst strained.

This was illustrated last summer when the relationship between the two, and between their principals Jim Marshall (the chief executive of MediaVest) and Mark Cranmer (the then UK chief executive of Starcom Motive), reached an all-time low when Barclays reviewed its £15 million media account out of MediaVest.

Originally the pitch involved just the incumbents - OMD, Optimedia and MediaVest - but, at the insistence of Starcom MediaVest Group when things were looking a bit shaky, Starcom Motive entered the fray and promptly won the account from its sister agency.

Despite putting on a public it's-good-that-it-stayed-within-the-group face, it was obvious that MediaVest was left feeling rather bruised and battered.

This was a defining moment - since then Starcom Motive has ridden high in the new-business league and Cranmer has been elevated to chief executive, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, across Starcom MediaVest. In contrast, MediaVest, lacking a credible network, has been cast slightly adrift and has had to settle for being the second-string agency.

The problems with the lack of a network soon became obvious and MediaVest became conspicuous by its absence from the majority of recent important pitches including Sony, Siemens and Gillette. Starcom Motive, on the other hand, enjoyed a period of tremendous growth culminating in it winning Campaign Media Agency of the Year last year.

It is also interesting to compare the fate of each agency's creative sister. MediaVest's partner, the once mighty D'Arcy, was put out of its misery last month by Publicis and has been folded into Leo Burnett in Europe, one of Starcom Motive's creative siblings.

While this has undoubtedly been a bitter pill for MediaVest to swallow, the agency seems to have entered a new era in its existence and any internal family difficulties are being overlooked.

"The bad blood that existed has been set aside and any egos were left behind at the door," one insider says. It is also telling that just a few weeks ago, and for the first time, all staff from both media agencies were whisked away to Spain for a mutual love-in.

In this spirit of perestroika, BT was offered and is taking advantage of all aspects of the Starcom MediaVest resource. At the moment it is unclear exactly how the account will be run and Cranmer, Marshall and Starcom Motive's managing director, Iain Jacob, were either unwilling or unable to comment.

It seems that the account team will work out of Starcom Motive's Great Pulteney Street offices but using MediaVest resources including MediaVest Manchester's direct response capabilities and the buying clout of MediaVest's managing director, Chris Locke.

But whatever arrangements they came to with BT, it is not certain that either Starcom Motive or MediaVest would have won the business had they pitched individually rather than as a combined entity. "It seems the client bought into the clever thinking from Starcom Motive, the ballsy buying from MediaVest and the direct response element provided by MediaVest Manchester," an insider adds.

Starcom Motive and MediaVest are not alone in looking at ways that their combined strength could give them the edge. Holding companies have increasingly been insistent on combining the clout of their media groups.

Zenith and Optimedia pitched jointly, and ultimately unsuccessfully, for the Masterfoods media business in the summer for the first time, although there are rumours that co-operation between the two is limited. Insiders suggest that the two agencies are still run very much as private fiefdoms and that any attempts at creating joint efforts are met with mutual suspicion rather than with a spirit of collaboration. All eyes are also on WPP's MindShare and Mediaedge:cia to see if and how they achieve some sort of synergy between their very different businesses.

The number of egos in the business will always prove a stumbling block to true integration, and also mean that enforced integration jeopardises the retention of key members of staff. It is to the credit of the Starcom Motive and Media-Vest management team that any previous disagreements seem to have been put aside in favour of securing the BT business.