Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign / editor of Media Week
Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign / editor of Media Week
A view from Arif Durrani

MEC's decision to appoint co-CEOs suggests a safe choice, but is it inspired?

I recently asked an Omnicom leader: if they could work at any other agency, which would they pick? "One of the more progressive ones," I was told. "One that is culture-based and stands for something." Interestingly, the only agency cited outside of their own beloved marcoms group was WPP's MEC.

Since its formation in 2002, MEC has built an enviable reputation by combining an insatiable appetite for new business with expertise in planning, data and analytics, all underpinned by the buying might of Group M. The begrudging respect MEC commands was confirmed when it was named Agency of the Decade on the back of thousands of industry votes at Media360 last year.

Today, it handles annual billings in excess of £650 million for a portfolio that includes EE, Lloyds and Morrisons. In 2013, it attracted global recognition for its planning study, MEC Momentum. In many respects, it is the modern agency of our time. But replacing the outgoing chief executive, Steve Hatch, who has played a key role since its inception, was always going to give chairman, Tom George, something to think about.

The recruitment process involved some heavy-hitters but, after four months, it was COO, Jason Dormieux, and the MD, Stuart Bowden, who were named joint chief executives last week. Internal promotions boost morale and avoid any radical surprises. Bowden is a smart, strategic planner by trade, who has the respect of peers, but is a quiet man. Dormieux, a former economics teacher, is even more considered by all accounts.

A direct response specialist turned digital expert, those who work with him praise his "logical, careful, results-driven" approach. It is telling that, when he left Zed for MEC, he succeeded in taking some of his data specialists with him. Clients are said to love him too: a safe pair of hands is always welcomed. But is that enough?

'The begrudging respect MEC commands was confirmed when  named Agency of the Decade'

There is an argument that the strength and depth of MEC’s talent negates any need for a standout ambassador. Increasingly, MEC’s new business is tied to its international network too.

The appointment of Sarah Hennessy to managing director is also popular and suggests good succession planning. She's respected as a great people manager and a proven leader, having made her mark as the driving force behind MEC's relationship with EE.

MEC is not broken, and does not need fixing. The new leadership recognises that. It follows a trend of sorts, with Steve Parker and Pippa Glucklich taking joint chief executive roles at Starcom MediaVest Group in October. It means the last two top media agency roles have been shared by four people. But I would suggest such safe strategies are surprisingly risky at a time when an agency’s personality is more pivotal than ever.