Media Headliner: Can Irwin and Jennings make Maxus think big?

As BJK&E, it prided itself on being small, but can Maxus' joint MDs become motivated by growth, Anne Cassidy asks.

The irony that an agency that bases its USP on its diminutive size should now be called, of all things, Maxus, a name with obvious connotations of enormity, cannot be lost on Tim Irwin and James Jennings.

Despite this, the joint managing directors of the WPP outfit formerly known as BJK&E still prefer to think small. "We established our positioning as this small agency which Group M powers, that small/big thing we always waffle on about. That doesn't change," Irwin explains.

The agency, which has led a profitable, if rather quiet, existence alongside its bigger, higher-profile siblings, now finds itself a lynchpin in the long-awaited establishment of WPP's fourth global network. The joint managing directors, who have worked together at BJK&E for nine years, are buoyed by the new opportunity. "There's no downside and there's no regret or loss," Jennings maintains.

The instigator of the move is the new Maxus global chief executive, Kelly Clark, who previously served as the EMEA chief executive of WPP's media unit Group M. Maxus is, according to Clark, designed to increase Group M's market share and will take a different approach to the group's established networks: Mediaedge:cia, Mindshare and MediaCom.

The network, already with a presence in Asia and New York and about to launch its next office in Spain, is being built as a global partnership of local entrepreneurial agencies. It will "shamelessly" exploit the resources and scale of Group M, Clark says. However, it will limit itself to 40 offices in key markets to suit clients not broadly developed internationally.

The rebranding of BJK&E has been on the cards for years and the establishment of Maxus, launched in Asia as long ago as 2004, as a global network had, until Clark's appointment last September, effectively been on hold as WPP focused on establishing its other media networks.

"There's a clear progression and setting of priorities in terms of agencies," Clark explains.

Maxus in the UK will maintain a local feel, forgo regional management tiers (Irwin and Jennings report directly to Clark) but share common principles with the other Maxus agencies. However, quite what those principles are is still "a work in progress", Clark says.

The new agency positioning will bring together media planning and relationship marketing (identifying potential customers and understanding their behaviour through data analytics). This, Clark explains, will turn Maxus into a very powerful offering "focused on turning prospects into loyal customers".

To do this, Maxus UK will require a focus on data analytics, digital marketing, e-commerce and CRM, which means hiring new talent. Jennings sees this as a natural progression: "We have an advantage in that we've already integrated digital into the way we serve clients."

BJK&E has built close relationships with clients such as the Financial Times and Mercedes. As Group M handles the bulk of trading negotiations, Irwin and Jennings' management team is freed up to work with clients on a day-to-day basis. As Maxus, those client relationships will move up a gear.

"We want to be a partner to clients that adds real commercial value to their businesses," Irwin says. But he maintains the non-threatening BJK&E profile won't be changing: "We won't turn into an aggressive monster."

However, it's clear that Maxus UK must improve on BJK&E's almost non-existent new-business performance. The agency had a very quiet 2008 (after it picked up Ubisoft at the end of 2007, its most notable win was Eurosport).

Clark wants Maxus UK to target clients from technology, financial services, leisure and travel, entertainment and retailing. He says: "Our key priority is putting in place an aggressive new-business drive. The previous incarnation of BJK&E was not part of a global network and we can help drive growth in the UK through regional and global new-business activity."

Industry observers find it difficult to separate the skill-sets of the joint managing directors, as the duo happily share the front and back of house role. However, Irwin, who joined BJK&E in 2000 and became the joint managing director with Jennings in the same year, is seen as leaning towards the commercial side of the business and Jennings, who joined in 1993, towards planning.

Both are held in high esteem and the agency has performed solidly under their leadership. Nick Theakstone, Group M's UK chief executive, says: "Tim and James are ideally placed to run Maxus. They are smart operators and have proven their ability to stand toe to toe with the best the industry can offer."

But it could be argued that they haven't fully tapped Group M's resources to grow the agency in the way that, for example, MEC has. This, the AAR managing director, Paul Phillips, feels is because BJK&E has preferred to stay small: "I don't think their agenda is to become the next big agency. WPP already has three big brands and not all clients want a big agency."

As the pressure is on Clark to bring together a strong network in a tough economic climate, Maxus UK will have to deliver. While the joint managing directors may want to stay small in attitude, this may create tensions given the broader agenda of Maxus globally. Clark asserts: "It is not our objective to stay small. We are absolutely motivated by growth."


1992: 20/20 formed as joint venture between CIA and DFSD Bozell

1996: Name changed to BJK&E Media to signal the Bozell network's commitment to building a global media brand. The name change aligned Bozell's European media operation with its US-based BJK&E (Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt)

2000: Managing director Mike Patterson leaves, making the directors James Jennings and Tim Irwin the joint managing directors

2001: WPP acquires BJK&E as part of deal to buy Tempus, CIA's parent

2009: BJK&E becomes UK office for Maxus network