MEDIA: BEHIND THE HYPE - Can a banker make MPG's buying more efficient?

Critics say Media Planning Group is old-fashioned in its newest hiring.

Last week, Media Planning Group, the world's tenth-largest media network by billings, announced a new arrival.

Emerging from the world of investment banking to take the new role of chief buying officer was Doctor Juan Bascones Gleave.

He might have a name like a villain from a Gothic novel but Dr Bascones (a trained medical doctor turned investment banker) has been brought into MPG to manage buying and negotiation across the whole of the network and its $8.5 billion of worldwide billings.

As well as working on the detail of international and global contracts with media owners, Bascones will attempt to ensure that MPG's buying processes are more efficient and consistent.

His background - he was most recently working for Merrill Lynch in Geneva - was important to MPG. Bascones says: "MPG is trying to leverage today's activity on the negotiation and buying side and it thinks it should be approached in the way that financial markets are."

So Bascones is charged with identifying to what degree media can now be bought as a commodity and with developing systems to do this more efficiently.

He outlines three key areas he will be involved in: trying to develop tools to forecast and set pricing of media, working with multinational clients on negotiating prices with multinational media owners and introducing best practice procedures in key markets.

The move is a new one for MPG and few other networks have one person in place with this level of responsibility for buying operations. However, networks such as Interpublic and WPP argue that they already have teams in place to do what Bascones will do.

For instance, WPP's MindShare network has a global council in place which is charged with overseeing what it terms its "investment" processes across media. This is led by Phil Teeman, the MindShare Worldwide managing partner, with Irwin Gotlieb, the chief executive of WPP's Group M venture, overseeing negotiations in North America.

Interpublic's Magna Global unit has been rolled out over the past three years and, it argues, is able to hatch international deals for clients with media owners.

Critics argue that MPG is behind the times. Nick Emery, the chief strategy and planning officer, MindShare Worldwide, says: "The idea of having a buying officer sounds very old-fashioned. We don't buy - we invest."

Others argue that Bascones will struggle to make an impact because few media owners are truly international (perhaps with the exception of those in the outdoor industry such as Clear Channel, Viacom and JCDecaux) and that local managing directors are likely to continue to want to do things their way.

Bascones concedes that there are limitations to the number of international deals that can be struck due to the complexity of local markets, especially in the case of television. "Helping multinational clients to negotiate multinationally with groups does not apply so much to television because I don't think that Channel 4 cares much what a TV station in Spain does. But the Viacoms of this world have multimedia capabilities across markets," he says.

The appointment of Bascones is aimed at driving efficiencies and treating media buying as the commodity market that many argue it has become. However, MPG runs risks if it becomes too inflexible and price-driven in its approach to negotiations. Especially as there are many larger networks ready to compete on this basis.

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