Chris Ingram, the chairman of Tempus Group and founder of CIA
Medianetwork, is celebrating 40 years in media. Well, I say celebrating,
but that’s not quite his style. ’Cool triumph’ better describes his
demeanour, although he admits that the often-commented-upon chip is
still perched firmly on his shoulder.
So why does the man who built the tenth largest media network in the
world with billings of more than pounds 2 billion still feel he has
something to prove? The answer is simple: his father. His constant jibes
of ’When are you going to get a proper job?’ drove Ingram to become a
From setting up Chris Ingram Associates in 1975, he has carved out goals
for his company that others have dismissed and, with only a few hiccups
along the way, he has built an empire stretching across 28 countries
with 1,900 employees. Ingram’s ’total belief that he is right’ and his
determination to ’prove to creative agencies that they were wrong’ in
not recognising the true value of media have been the constant themes of
his ambitions for CIA, according to a former CIA director.
Ingram’s first steps into advertising were precipitated by his failure
to pass O-level maths, when his father despaired of his son getting into
a ’respectable’ profession like banking or insurance. Ingram’s sister
suggested he try advertising because he wouldn’t need any qualifications
and, at 16, he became a messenger boy at CDP.
Ingram’s ambition and drive meant he learned fast, carefully planning
his career moves to acquire new skills until, at the tender age of 26,
he managed to land a board directorship at KMP.
Although technically Paul Green was the first to fire the starting gun
on media independents by launching Media Buying Services in 1969, Ingram
played a key role in blazing the trail for media agencies, spinning off
the media planning and buying of KMP into a separate department that
became TMD (now called Carat). When recession hit, Ingram - realising
that media would always be regarded as a backroom operation by creative
agencies - decided to go it alone with his own company, Chris Ingram
Ingram agrees that starting up a media agency now is a very different
operation than it was in the old days. He says: ’There were no barriers
to entry. When we started CIA, we had two desks, two telephones and a
part-time secretary in cheap offices licensed by the month. The barriers
to entry are higher now; you need so many specialisms to cover the
Ingram believes that the fragmentation of media markets and the new
markets opened up by the internet and digital technology have created a
different atmosphere in the media industry. ’The range of the job is
much more creative now. Classic media men were control freaks - I think
I did let go. Also media agencies are very anxious about keeping to
their clients’ budgets and providing accountability, which has led to an
almost risk-averse culture - which is a fair criticism of media
Ingram, who has certainly not been averse to taking risks, admits he has
made some mistakes - some of which have been very public. During CIA’s
acquisition frenzy between 1993 and 1997, when the company rose through
the European ranks to become a major international media player, the UK
office became embroiled in a very messy and public trading dispute with
two ITV sales houses, Laser and TSMS, which were owed substantial sums
of money by CIA.
Ingram made the mistake of personally wading in and making statements to
the press such as: ’Did you see a large cheque lying round anywhere?
No, because there isn’t one.’ Some months later he was forced to eat his
words, a cheque was issued to pay off ITV and Ingram realised that the
UK office needed a bit more attention.
It was no accident that this trading debacle occurred at a time when the
UK office was experiencing an uneasy management period. Although, to
everyone’s surprise, accounts did not walk out of the door immediately,
a year or so later the rot set in and a number of major clients, such as
BT and Lloyds Bank, began to remove their business.
Ingram took the UK office’s struggle very personally, realising that his
drive to make CIA a major player in Europe had made him take the eye off
the ball back home. ’Of course I’m not happy with the UK office’s
performance,’ he says, frowning. ’It hurts, it really does. When you
grow that fast you wonder where you compromise.’
So where does Ingram feel he slipped up? ’I think I repaid loyalty more
than I rewarded talent. While I’m a difficult bastard to work for, I did
feel I had to be loyal to people who had bust a gut for the company. I
wear people out because my ambitions are so difficult. Without a doubt
the company had become far less entrepreneurial.’
While Ingram can boast that ’in the first 13 years of CIA we didn’t lose
a director’ - which stands in stark contrast to the 90s when a
succession of key players walked out of the door - he also realises that
there is a middle ground where some change can ensure a company
maintains a fresh outlook and dynamism.
With the new chief executive, David Wheldon, on board after a year-long
courtship, Ingram believes that the UK agency’s fortunes are about to
change. ’David will turn it around; he really brought a vision with
him,’ a typically bullish Ingram declares. He believes the key to the
UK’s recovery is relatively simple. ’Two big wins will change it
phenomenally quickly. There hasn’t been enough big action to make people
forget the past.’
In terms of CIA’s standing, Ingram has high expectations. ’I think by
the end of next year our reputation will be as the company to beat.
Astute readers of the business, the David Pattisons and Jonathan Durdens
of this world, will say ’bloody hell, that’s a neat proposition’ -
that’s what I expect to happen this autumn.’
Ingram’s conviction that CIA is an unstoppable media missile has been
given renewed firepower by the agency’s recent acquisition of Added
Value, the marketing services company. Ingram believes this deal will
help create the next generation of media services where clients seeking
advice on brand strategy will now flock through CIA’s doors.
In building the company’s presence by rolling it out into other
countries, with the US as a priority, he feels that CIA will have a
valuable USP with which to lure clients. ’I suppose I’d like us to be
the McKinseys or Andersens of this industry - that would be great,’
Ingram states, with a steely glint in his eye.
The other area in which Ingram wants CIA to build its reputation is in
new media, via its digital media network, Outrider, and CIA’s increased
stake in Good Technology, the new-media subsidiary. Ingram is keen to
build and align the division’s presence through the CIA network as other
international players beef up their digital presence.
Although many industry observers feel that Ingram will eventually have
to merge with another agency network to become a top three player, he
appears adamant that he will succeed alone. He is no stranger to having
to contemplate such an alliance, and freely admits to two points in
CIA’s career when he did think about making some such arrangement.
In the mid-80s, CIA was still fairly low in the billings pecking order
and, with the dawn of a European single market, Ingram realised that the
key to the agency’s survival would be forming a European business. He
decided the best solution would be to float the company, which was given
a market capitalisation of pounds 9 million. After flotation, a number
of key directors, such as Nick Manning and Colin Gottlieb, left the
Ingram observes: ’The flotation pissed off some of our key senior
managers - they went and we probably didn’t replace them
The second time he admits to faltering in his policy of ’splendid
isolation’ was in late 1998. Ingram explains: ’The share price was a
third of what it is now, which made it more difficult to buy things, but
there was all the talk about consolidation within the agency market.
Were we going to be left behind? For four months we lost our
Despite his doubts, Ingram was unimpressed by his company’s suitors.
’We looked at them and said ’we are better than them’ and our arrogance
returned. At that stage, I was finding what the point of difference was
going to be.’ That point of difference was the acquisition of Added
Persistence and stealth
Although it is still unclear how Ingram will be able to conjure up the
sums needed to push his way forward in key markets such as Asia and the
US, where CIA is still a relatively small player, his determination is
such that you can’t help believing that somehow Ingram will manage it.
He puts his success down to a combination of ’huge persistence -you’re
not going to stop us, we’re coming,’ and stealth.
But there is another thorn in Ingram’s side, in the shape of Martin
Sorrell, the chairman of WPP Group and Ingram’s great rival. Sorrell has
managed to become a substantial shareholder in the company, mainly
through the pique of CIA’s former chairman of the Italian office, Marco
Benatti. Sorrell is now the second largest shareholder after Ingram,
prompting speculation that he is eyeing up the media agency as a future
Ingram maintains that he is ignorant of Sorrell’s intentions, although
he is clearly irritated by his presence. ’I genuinely don’t know what
his game-plan is.’
But Ingram sends out an oblique warning to Sorrell when he implies that
should a hostile take-over happen, CIA would lose its key entrepreneurs.
’We have a very high proportion of people in senior positions who have
already made money, so we have them coming into work because they want
to, not because they have to.
If someone comes in and makes a hostile bid, what are they buying?’ he
At 56, Ingram is clearly not willing to give up the chairmanship of CIA,
although three years ago he surrendered the chief executive’s post to
his trusted friend and right-hand man, David Reich. He brushes aside the
question of when he will step down by referring to CIA’s future
initiatives with fiery enthusiasm. ’At the moment the internet is
getting a huge buzz.
I’ve invested in five internet companies and I’m chairman of one of
It’s a rebirth. And, with the Added Value deal, we are breaking the
mould again. I don’t want to hand it over at this stage.’
Even after four decades in media, there is plenty of life in the old dog
THE INGRAM FILE
1975: Ingram launches Chris Ingram Associates, one of the first media
1982: Chris Ingram Associates launches in Europe with CIA Media
1986: CIA Direct launches with Ian Payne as managing director
1988: CIA launches WM Media with Woollams Moira Gaskin O’Malley. Tony
Kenyon and John Duggan form the CIA-backed IDK Media
1989: CIA merges with Billett & Co. CIA floats on the stock market
1991: CIA Group buys a 70 per cent stake in Media Solutions, the GGT
media operation. CIA signs joint venture with Delaney Fletcher Bozell to
launch 20/20 Media
1993: CIA buys London Media Co
1997: CIA runs into a trading dispute with Laser and TSMS
1998: CIA Group, the holding company for CIA, is rebranded as Tempus.
Ingram takes on the role of chairman with David Reich as chief
executive. CIA loses BT’s pounds 100 million TV buying and Lloyds Bank’s
pounds 12 million business
1998: IDK and Media Solutions are merged into CIA
1999: David Wheldon announced as the UK’s new chief executive and CIA
acquires the marketing specialist Added Value for pounds 35 million
2000: Ingram reaches his 40th year in the media world.