The Lists 2020: Top 10 media buyers

The best of the industry in 2020.

Top media buyers: Willis, Ballinger, Bignell, Turner, Bevan, Oliver, Din, Dibben, Lythe and Mullins
Top media buyers: Willis, Ballinger, Bignell, Turner, Bevan, Oliver, Din, Dibben, Lythe and Mullins

1 Simon Willis

Chief investment officer, Group M UK

Previously tipped in this list as a “successor waiting in the wings” to replace Mark Collins, Willis was promoted this year to the top investment job in charge of £3bn in annual spend for Britain’s biggest media buyer. Willis is a savvy negotiator who leads a media investment “squad” in CEO Karen Blackett’s restructured Group M set-up. Meanwhile Collins, the top buyer on this list for years, has moved to a broader role as chairman to drive collaboration between Group M and the rest of WPP. There is a lot of bench strength as media owners also rate Robin O’Neill and Martin Galvin in the trading team.

2 Steve Ballinger

Managing director, commercial, Dentsu UK

A smart operator who has run a tight ship amid upheaval and a geographical shift away from London to the rest of the UK for the Dentsu International operation in the past 12 months. It has been up to “Bally” to ensure the numbers add up, as big pitches, such as Kraft Heinz, which Carat won in August, have continued remotely. His trading book includes some major clients, such as Microsoft and Vodafone, that have weathered Covid-19 better than most.

3 Steve Bignell

Chief executive, Publicis Media Exchange UK

A good-natured media veteran, who worked at Zenith early in his career and most recently spent eight years at ITV before joining PMX just as the pandemic began. Publicis Groupe has performed relatively well during Covid compared with some agency rivals. 

4 Adam Turner

Managing director of investment, Omnicom Media Group UK

Turner is a long-serving operator in Omnicom’s low-profile investment division, who took on extra responsibility when his boss, John Overend, stepped down in the summer. The UK government, one of OMG’s biggest clients, became even more important in the trading book this year as other advertisers turned off spend during the virus lockdowns. 

5 Simon Bevan

Chief investment officer, Havas Media UK

Looking after new and existing clients from John West (a joint media and creative account win in October) to O2 has kept Bevan busy during the pandemic. Havas Media has pioneered a social equity marketplace this year, giving advertisers the opportunity to target and support underrepresented groups with their media investment. He spent more than two decades at Dentsu before switching to Havas in 2017.

6 Richard Oliver

Head, Magna Global, UK

The investment lead for IPG Mediabrands buying arm, Magna Global, has some big ecommerce clients such as Amazon and Just Eat that have kept spending during the virus crisis. The Interpublic outfit was the fastest-growing of the big six buyers in the UK before Covid, and Oliver is looking to close the gap on bigger rivals. 

7 Bobby Din

Investment partner, Goodstuff Communications

A bright spark who has grown the Goodstuff media-buying operation from scratch in 2011 and has been a steady hand during the coronavirus chaos. Din’s team has partnered performance agencies such as Brainlabs and Croud, which shows that Goodstuff recognises the importance of digital innovation as well as media invention.

8 Emma Dibben

Head of print brands and partner engagement, Wavemaker UK

Dibben is a champion of news and magazine brands and understands the importance of partnerships with media owners – a need that has become more pressing, given the Covid downturn. The Wavemaker team has stepped up with work for brands such as the Nationwide Building Society and razor brand Wilkinson Sword.

9 Lee Lythe

Chief investment officer, Spark Foundry UK

In a sector that remains heavily male-dominated, Lythe’s promotion to chief investment officer this year marked her out as one of a new breed of top agency buyers. She learned her trade at leading independent Walker Media and climbed the ladder as it evolved into Blue 449 and then Spark Foundry.

10 Liam Mullins

Managing partner, the7stars

Mullins oversees commercials for Britain’s biggest independent media agency and has been looking to increase its digital capabilities with innovative moves such as a data-driven partnership on behalf of TSB with Global’s Dax. Mullins is also a member of Media For All, the mentoring organisation of BAME talent, and has been active in pushing diversity higher up the agenda in the year when Black Lives Matter went global.


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