HEADLINER: CIA’s reluctant visionary opts for the continuity gameplan - CIA Medianetwork’s Mike Elms has had enough of change, Claire Beale says

Let me declare my love right now. I love CIA. This company is a journalist’s dream. Over the years no other UK media agency has provided so many interesting headlines: takeovers, mergers, joint ventures, start-ups, rows, dubious airtime dealings, political in-fighting, departures, even the odd hiring, and, of course, plenty of accounts won and lost.

Let me declare my love right now. I love CIA. This company is a

journalist’s dream. Over the years no other UK media agency has provided

so many interesting headlines: takeovers, mergers, joint ventures,

start-ups, rows, dubious airtime dealings, political in-fighting,

departures, even the odd hiring, and, of course, plenty of accounts won

and lost.



So when Mike Elms, the chief executive of CIA’s UK interests for the

past five years, insists ’there’s always been continuity here’, it

sounds a little disingenuous.



Turbulence at CIA? Oh no, no, no. The CIA which in recent years has

suffered the departure of a spectrum of key executives from UK group

companies, which took a bath to the tune of pounds 600,000 on the

acquisition of Mansfield Lang, which lost pounds 1.8 million in a TV

trading dispute last year, and which has seen its chairman, Chris

Ingram, complain that the UK performance left something to be desired in

the latest profits figures. No more turbulence than any other UK media

company, Elms claims.



When Mike Tunnicliffe quit as managing director of CIA Medianetwork last

week (reportedly losing out after giving CIA chiefs a ’him (Elms) or me’

ultimatum), Elms decided to combine his group role with the running of

the flagship brand, amid bets as to his own length of tenure in the post

(Campaign, 3 October).



A year ago, Elms’s role extended to Europe, then he was pulled back to

concentrate on the UK group. Now his primary task will be the

Medianetwork operation. Regression? No, focus, he insists. ’We’d

stretched our UK management into pan-European responsibilities and

no-one was giving the UK 150 per cent. But as the core brand,

Medianetwork is the biggest lever to pull as far as the products,

services and profits of our European development are concerned. Now I

want to get my hands on that lever.’



David Reich, the chief executive of CIA plc, gives Elms his full

backing.



’Mike’s the sort of guy who relishes the cut and thrust, he’s a team

player and I honestly think we’ll now see Medianetwork thrusting

ahead.’



Elms was once a media hotshot, working his way through the ranks at

Ogilvy & Mather to become media director then managing director of the

agency.



Then he had a bad accident playing rugby and nearly died. It was, say

those who knew him, a turning point. He became more sober (literally,

giving up alcohol) and lost some spark. In 1992, he was deposed from O&M

and joined CIA as its UK group chief executive at the beginning of 1993

and became the vision behind CIA’s UK strategy.



Elms, who despite being the physical embodiment of the colour grey, is

only 43, talks a lot of sense. He talks about the opportunities for

strategic planning, database marketing, new media, about his vision for

a full-service media offering.



It’s a vision he’s articulated for years, and one which other companies

are now embracing. It’s even a vision CIA had the resource and

determination to tackle. But it’s a vision which CIA has never truly

pulled off.



Take CIA Conzept - a strategic planning service whose inception and

positioning was something of a masterstroke but which was left in

tatters when its management were poached earlier this year to set up a

similar operation for J. Walter Thompson. Rather than apportion (or

accept) blame, Elms believes Conzept was a step too far too soon. ’We’re

still seen in many ways as a buying shop and we’ve got to get to the

point where our clients would naturally accept that we have that sort of

service.’



Hence his decision now to bring this full-service proposition right into

the heartland of the Medianetwork brand while kicking off a search for a

top-class marketer to help with its positioning.



But Elms, who has been out of the media scrum for some time, is no

obvious white knight. Ask a media owner or two about him and his name

does not automatically elicit words of respect. And while Tunnicliffe

may have been lacking vision (and perhaps respect), he made up for it

with a solid trading background and a camaraderie with both media owners

and a number of senior clients - qualities which Elms, nice guy as he

is, must now work hard at.



Bizarrely enough, if he gets it wrong Elms will have his deputy at UK

group level, Roger Powley, to answer to. Powley, who is soon to join

from Carat as managing director of the UK interests, will also be Elms’s

boss as far as the performance of Medianetwork is concerned. A bemused

Powley asked: ’Does this mean I can beat you up on some Medianetwork

things?’, to which Elms replied: ’Absolutely right it does.’ Here’s to

more great headlines.



The Elms file

1973 Ogilvy & Mather, media trainee

1977 O&M, head of media planning

1981 O&M, media director

1989 O&M, managing director

1993 CIA UK Holdings, chief executive

1997 CIA Medianetwork, chief executive



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