D'Arcy closure and Walkers loss leave MediaVest drifting

As Channel 4 might as equally testify this week, success is a cyclical business; one minute you're the hound's magnificent testicles, the next you're the hound. And in business terms, where once people wanted to give you money, now they can't take it away fast enough, writes Claire Beale.

So it is that MediaVest was once arguably the most successful media agency in London, a vibrant culture that hoovered up all new business in its path. Now, with the compounded loss of Walkers and Quakers in an international realignment into OMD this week, the agency is clearly struggling. When MediaVest launched as The Media Centre in 1991, it piled on about £200m of business. COI Communications, Walkers, Scottish Courage, Associated Newspapers and Dixons were among the blue chips that flowed in. In the past couple of years, more than £85m has left.

Normally you would blame the management. But beyond perhaps too much loyalty to some staff who should have been moved on or out, there's little tangible to criticise. The management team remains one of the most stable and respected in the business, the service and levels of performance apparently remain high.

When business moves it is more often than not less about the agency's performance and more about either price or positioning. It seems that it's the positioning that has increasingly become MediaVest's undoing. It was too slow to get the strategic PR spinning; for too long MediaVest was seen as a buying-led agency. But crucially, as more clients are taking a global view, MediaVest has no bespoke international proposition.

The agency has never enjoyed the comfort blanket of a strong network; under MacManus' management, MediaVest had more holes than a string vest and post-Bcom3 was cut further adrift as Leo Burnett's Starcom was clearly the key international media brand. As other sister media agencies have found ways of leveraging a group proposition, Starcom MediaVest has been painfully slow to embrace the opportunities.

Publicis' decision last week to consign MediaVest's sister creative agency, D'Arcy, to oblivion shouldn't really matter much to MediaVest -- D'Arcy offered little sibling support. But once the D'Arcy team is dissolved from the shared, bleak Kensington Village headquarters, MediaVest may ask if it has been truly cast adrift.

As Publicis surveys its new media landscape, MediaVest must seem, by no fault of the local management, the joker of the pack. Zenith and Optimedia have already established a mutually beneficial relationship, and Starcom Motive remains one of the most formidable brands. The drawn-out sale of Bartle Bogle Hegarty's stake in the Starcom Motive operation is holding up group media cooperation, but the more business slips through MediaVest's fingers, the less there will be to work with. And such a change in fortunes is a terrible shame.

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