Cranmer embarks on a digital mission at Isobar

Isobar's newly appointed chief executive Mark Cranmer tells Media Week about his return to the executive scene after a year out of the limelight.

Mark Cranmer, the new chief executive of Isobar
Mark Cranmer, the new chief executive of Isobar

Mark Cranmer, the newly appointed chief executive of Isobar, believes many in the media industry see him as "a bit of an old git, but lovely really".

For an "old git" Cranmer is positively upbeat, despite Manchester United reaching the Champions League final. "I'm a Chelsea supporter and that's the only thing in life my four sons have not been given the choice of," he says.

Cranmer, 51, is an industry stalwart, having been in the advertising and media business for 34 years, but he retains the enthusiasm of a rookie - although he refuses point-blank to get his hair wet for a photo-shoot as "it'll make my hair big".

He started working in the media industry at a small local ad agency, before landing a media assistant job at Bates and subsequently working his way up through creative agencies JWT, Leo Burnett and the now-defunct Granfield Rork Collins Communications. However, Cranmer's "apprenticeship years" proved to be very small stepping stones to a rather large pond.

After joining Lowe in 1982 as a media planner/buyer, when the creative agency launched its media division, Cranmer left to work at Collett Dickenson Pearce, which he recalls was "not a great period for me or the industry, as it was a recession".

In 1993, his career reached a turning point, when he took part in "a great voyage" by taking a strategic media and development role at Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Joining the "magnificent creative agency" led Cranmer to set up BBH's media agency Motive, which later formed the DNA of the Starcom MediaVest Group, following a merger with Leo Burnett.

In 2000, Cranmer became chief executive of Starcom Europe Middle East and Africa, with the task of establishing the network throughout the continent. However, he left in 2006, three years after the agency was acquired by Publicis Groupe.

"It was the height of the agency sector becoming a global business and media becoming a discipline in its own right away from the full-service ad agencies," he recalls. "The job was tough, but the industry was also much simpler to navigate back then."

Although only in his second week in the job at Isobar, the digital agency network of Aegis Media, Cranmer is looking forward to being back in a full-time executive job after taking a year out of the limelight.

He says: "I realised I wasn't getting any better at golf and I was driving my wife mad, so at the beginning of this year I decided I wanted to go back into full-time work."

Positive experience

Having left Starcom in need of a change, Cranmer joined WPP's Research International in 2006 as worldwide chief executive, where he stayed for a year until he realised it was time to take a break from full-time employment.

He recalls: "In hindsight, when I left Starcom, I should have recognised that I needed to take a break, rather then accepting a different job. Having said that, when I look back at the [Research International] job, I view it as a positive experience where I learnt a lot."

However, Cranmer did keep his hand in during his year out by being contracted on an ad hoc basis as a consultant to Aegis agencies Vizeum and Carat, working on projects in the UK and North America.

So, wasn't he tempted to take the role as chief executive of Aegis Media North America in place of Nigel Morris, his predecessor as Isobar chief executive?

Cranmer says: "It's a fantastic job, but Nigel is absolutely the right person for the role because of the potential Aegis Media has in America through the power of its digital assets, allied to the core media business of Carat and Vizeum. Nigel will bring accelerated cultural learning, so he is much better suited than me."

Cranmer is a born and bred Londoner, who has only lived within a 10-mile radius of where he was raised as a child. However, if he was starting out again, he would relish the chance to work abroad.

He says: "If I was a young man starting again in a more globally connected world, I would love to work in China and North America, because they are going to represent the most exciting markets."

As someone who thrives on positive challenges rather than managing the status quo, Cranmer says he is eager to help develop Isobar, as he did as a young man at Lowe and BBH, even during tough economic times.

"Isobar is a creative organisation in digital and I will help accelerate the progress," he says. "My role is about helping the business realise its potential. There is still an exciting evolution yet to happen."

And as former chairman of UKOM - a joint industry committee set up by the Association of Online Publishers and the Internet Advertising Bureau to deliver a standard online measurement system - Cranmer believes the online measurement system could be a unified starting point for planning.

He says: "As technology improves, audiences figures will increase, as we continue to use the space more. We are scratching the surface of how we can communicate in a digital environment. While everyone recognises the importance of digital, some brands are yet to realise its full potential."

Although experiencing his second recession in the media industry, Cranmer remains positive because of today's digital opportunities.

He says: "In the last recession, we went down and when we came back up, the world was the same. But this time, when the economy picks up, the world will have changed."


2009 Chief executive, Isobar
2007 Consultant, Aegis Media
2006 Worldwide chief executive, Research International
2000 Chief executive EMEA, Starcom MediaVest
1995 Director, Motive
1993 Strategic media and development director, BBH
1991 Joint deputy managing director, CDP
1982 Media planner/buyer, Lowe
1975-1982 Various roles at Bates, JWT, Leo Burnett and Granfield Rork Collins
Marital status
Married to Caroline for 18 years, with four sons
Football team
Favourite band
Led Zeppelin

Cranmer on...
People he admires:
I admire people and companies that are successful because they stick to their core values as a culture and a company. BBH is a good example.
The digital industry:
There is such a huge opportunity as more audiences use the digital space. In the recession, more people are using the internet and shopping online. Digital is playing a pivotal role and everyone has recognised the importance of digital in the past five years. However, brands have not yet got their heads around the sector.
Aegis Media:
Aegis has a great culture - it's high on energy and low on politics. All the agencies in the group work really well together, and we all have a shared agenda to do well.
The recession:
When the economy recovers, we will come back to a different communications environment. Consumers will have a different diet of how they live and shop.