How are the media agencies performing?

After discovering what the industry thinks of commercial TV's sales teams, it is the turn of media agencies to go under the microscope.

Daren Rubins and Phil Georgiadis
Daren Rubins and Phil Georgiadis

There's a large gulf between the most collaborative and creative media agencies, and those that struggle to engage with media owners or have failed to embrace the ethos of partnerships.

That's according to a Campaign survey of TV companies that took their turn to evaluate their opposites on their creative thinking, neutrality of planning, integrated planning and willingness to become involved in partnerships.

And while there was a general consensus among the media agencies when surveyed on the state of the TV companies, a few interesting discrepancies were thrown up when the exercise was reversed.

While Walker Media appeared at the very top – or near the top – of the rankings for many media owners and Mindshare's disappointing showing was also almost universal, Carat was judged best by one media owner and worst (by some distance) by another.

So, what does this show us? Well, possibly that media owners still base their opinions on their last "innovative" campaign – something that one is even prepared to acknowledge. An alternative view is that media owners still form their view of agencies based on the level of share that they get from them.

There could also be an inherent prejudice that new-business performance is also taken into account when judging their abilities.

Bearing these caveats in mind, the survey is not a perfect metric, but one – when the scores are averaged out – that shows interesting general trends and overall themes.

For example, those agencies that either have a heritage as planning specialists, such as PHD, or have positioned themselves accordingly, such as Vizeum, are thought of more highly than some of those whose recent history is as the "pile it high" media buyers. Interestingly, however, ZenithOptimedia – the pioneer of bulk buying – has managed to shake off this legacy.

Also, the further an agency is perceived to operate from its centralised buying function, the higher its score is – something that appears to work against Mindshare, which is allied closely to Group M Trading (possibly because so many of its former staff now work there), but less so MEC. "To make planning happen, you have to have the buyers engaged in the process," one sales chief comments.

Ultimately, some agencies are delivering - or are better-equipped to deliver - on their part of the media partnership deal, but all are making noises about it.

"Everyone is talking a good game and the momentum is there, but not everyone is doing it," one media owner says. This is something that seems to apply to the media agencies as much as it does the media owners.

Each category is scored out of 50

1= PHD
Chief executive: Daren Rubins
Creative thinking: 40
Neutrality of planning: 37
Integrated planning: 37
Embraces partnerships: 35
TOTAL (out of 200): 149

As joint winners, PHD has managed to retain the cerebral positioning that made it famous in the first place.

It scored top for creative thinking by some margin. "PHD are smart thinkers - the agency always has been. Its planners are willing to open up and they are great to do business with," one media owner says.

In particular, its content division, Drum, is lauded for pushing innovation and willingness to embrace new ideas, and some sales chiefs thought that OPera is a benign influence leaving PHD to continue doing what it does best.

With the arrival of a new management team at Drum, the challenge is to ensure this innovation continues.

1= Walker Media
Chairman: Phil Georgiadis
Creative thinking: 35
Neutrality of planning: 42
Integrated planning: 35
Embraces partnerships: 37
TOTAL (out of 200): 149

The neutrality of Walker Media's planning really stood out for all the media owners and the agency scored highly in the other criteria as well, making it this year's joint top-rating agency. "It is so pure when it comes to planning and they make sure they do the right thing for each client.

"Its only downfall for clients is that it is not part of a global network," one sales director says. Its positioning as a line-by-line agency, therefore, has given it an edge over its rivals.

But there is also credit for the way that it comes up with creative ideas. "Jon Horrocks (the trading director) does come up with more ideas than any other trader," another sales chief says.

3 MEC
Chief executive: Steve Hatch
Creative thinking: 37
Neutrality of planning: 32
Integrated planning: 38
Embraces partnerships: 38
TOTAL (out of 200): 145

MEC was the highest ranking of the Group M stable of media agencies and was particularly rated for its creativity.

While the neutrality of its planning let it down - perhaps again because media owners are suspicious of how neutral an agency that has Group M Trading behind it can be - it scored particularly highly in the "willingness to embrace partnerships" category.

The fact that it has been able to retain its distinctiveness is, therefore, testament to the planning heritage of its management team, such as the chief strategy officer, Stuart Sullivan-Martin, and chief executive, Steve Hatch. "It's a creative agency and it's good," one media owner concludes.

4 Vizeum
Managing director: Grant Millar
Creative thinking: 35
Neutrality of planning: 33
Integrated planning: 42
Embraces partnerships: 33
TOTAL (out of 200): 143

A strong performance from Aegis' second-string agency, which scored the highest out of all agencies for its integrated planning offering and, perhaps, given its relatively boutique nature and smaller size, allows it to be more fleet of foot.

With a client list that includes Coca-Cola and 20th Century Fox, it appears to have set itself up accordingly to deliver on their requirements.

"Vizeum works on some cool brands so is up for partnerships, despite being part of the Aegis trading set-up," one sales director says.

5 MediaCom
Chief executive: Karen Blackett
Creative thinking: 37
Neutrality of planning: 33
Integrated planning: 37
Embraces partnerships: 35
TOTAL (out of 200): 142

The promotion of Karen Blackett to chief executive was viewed as a positive move for an agency that has traditionally had a reputation for innovation, despite being the biggest agency in the UK, but was in danger of going a bit stale. "It's a really smart agency but was in need of cultural change," one sales chief says.

"The challenge for it is that it is so big that it can be a bit defensive. But the planners have got an eye for a game-changing idea." Its creative thinking and integrated planning credentials scored highly, showing that it has put enough distance between it and Group M Trading.

6 ZenithOptimedia
Chief executive: Gerry Boyle
Creative thinking: 33
Neutrality of planning: 32
Integrated planning: 35
Embraces partnerships: 38
TOTAL (out of 200): 138

Despite being seen as "quite traditional", particular credit is given to Newcast, ZenithOptimedia's branded entertainment division.

This explains its strong performance with its willingness to embrace partnerships. Given that both Zenith and Optimedia operate as two separate divisions, there is concern over how "joined up" the agency is in totality, but it does score well for integrated planning.

7 MPG Media Contacts
Chief executive: Marc Mendoza
Creative thinking: 33
Neutrality of planning: 38
Integrated planning: 33
Embraces partnerships: 33
TOTAL (out of 200): 137

When aggregated, media owners gave MPG Media Contacts a satisfactory overall score, but some sales chiefs were more effusive than others.

"MPG is run differently to most other agencies – it's very business-focused. Like Walker Media, it gets into boardrooms," one says. It came second only to Walker Media for the neutrality of planning.

8= OMD
Chief executive: Steve Williams
Creative thinking: 32
Neutrality of planning: 33
Integrated planning: 33
Embraces partnerships: 33
TOTAL (out of 200): 131

OMD scored consistently across the board, neither excelling nor performing badly in any particular category.

Again, it was pointed out that OPera does not appear to have any control over the way that it functions - in the views of media owners, this is a good thing. OMD was credited as having "joined up" strategic planning and buying functions.

8= UM London
Chief executive - Andy Jones
Creative thinking: 35
Neutrality of planning: 35
Integrated planning: 28
Embraces partnerships: 33
TOTAL (out of 200): 131

Despite being in joint eighth place, there was a feeling that UM London is still a work in progress given the turmoil of previous years. "It has successfully reinvented itself. It has been in a tough place but realises the value of ideas," one sales director says.

As a strong performer in last year's Campaign Media Awards, it is making progress in this area. "Under Jim Hytner (the president EMEA), it is changing," another says. Despite solid scores in creative thinking and neutrality of planning, its integrated planning function appears to have let it down.

10 Carat
Managing director: Tracey De Groose
Creative thinking: 33
Neutrality of planning: 27
Integrated planning: 35
Embraces partnerships: 33
TOTAL (out of 200): 128

"It's standout - it has knocked down the walls. Carat is fantastic at collaboration. It takes leaps of faith, it's joined up and has a clear vision," one media owner says.

But a rival has a diametrically opposed view: "Out of all the agencies, its buyers only do things that are in the interest of Carat." There was a feeling that a media owner with whom Carat has a good commercial relationship will benefit more than those where relationships are more fraught.

Carat's reputation for getting the best prices, maybe by beating up media owners, is something it has yet to shake off.

11 Starcom MediaVest Group
Chief executive: Stewart Easterbrook
Creative thinking: 27
Neutrality of planning: 35
Integrated planning: 28
Embraces partnerships: 27
TOTAL (out of 200): 117

Starcom MediaVest Group finds itself apparently let down by the levels of creative thinking and the willingness to embrace partnerships, according to virtually all the sales directors.

However, they do understand that the agency is going through a transition following the loss of its big-spending TV clients and focus on growing its strength in SEO. "Starcom MediaVest is trying to position itself as a digital business," one says. "Does it want to be a media agency?" another asks.

Its trading director, Chris Locke, receives credit for being "very creative" and "gets excited by new ideas".

12 Mindshare
Chief executive: Jed Glanvill
Creative thinking: 25
Neutrality of planning: 27
Integrated planning: 23
Embraces partnerships: 25
TOTAL (out of 200): 100

There was consensus that Mindshare was the least creative, had the least neutral planning (along with Carat) and integrated planning, and was the least willing to embrace partnerships from all the media owners.

For an agency that has made some noises in creative media, this might appear surprising. "Mindshare is very much an international agency, so trying to activate anything locally is difficult," one media owner says.

It is also considered too close to Group M Trading to allow its planners much autonomy. "Group M Trading doesn't match up with the planning," another says.

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