MEDIA: HEADLINER; MGM partners defy critics as shop nears fifth anniversary

John Owen celebrates five years of MGM this Sunday with a look at its partners

John Owen celebrates five years of MGM this Sunday with a look at its

partners



It is 1 February 1991, two-and-a-half months after the launch of Manning

Gottlieb Media. Colin Gottlieb and Nick Manning are moving into the

first-floor offices in Covent Garden, London, which will become home to

the new media independent. The postman arrives. ‘You a new company,

then?’ enquires the friendly fellow. ‘Yes,’ the young hopefuls reply.

‘Tch,’ mutters the postman. ‘You won’t be around for long.’



On the face of it, November 1990 was a bad time to launch a business.

The recession wasn’t just biting the UK economy, it was threatening to

swallow it up.



But the postman was wrong. Five years on, and Manning and Gottlieb

preside over a company that can boast billings of pounds 50 million and

blue-chip clients such as Sony, Nike and Virgin.



‘If you’d asked me when we started where I’d like to be in five years’

time, I couldn’t have asked for more,’ Gottlieb says.



The company has grown to fill all three floors of the building and, in

spring next year, it will uproot from the endearing, but shambolic,

charm of Tavistock Street to a quiet mews off Portman Square.



The move, coming so soon after its fifth birthday, will be a watershed

for MGM. It is a clear sign of both its success and the partners’

continued desire for growth. But it also poses the inevitable question

of whether this small independent, with a reputation for clever ideas,

can keep its usp as it gets bigger.



As Gottlieb acknowledges, this is the challenge. For all the hard work

and the need to make a profit, MGM is also a fun place to work, Gottlieb

says. It is crucial that the agency does not lose this.



‘Hopefully, it’s a virtuous circle,’ he says. ‘If you’ve got a

profitable company, are attracting the right sort of clients and have an

atmosphere that attracts the right type of people, those people add to

the atmosphere and attract more of the right type of clients, which

gives you growth.’



The emphasis on the ‘right type’ of client is key because, as Gottlieb

points out, it’s the clients that ultimately define the MGM brand.



Manning models MGM’s growth plans on one of its clients, Virgin:

‘Richard Branson tries to keep his businesses in tight, compact groups

because he believes you get better quality from small teams interacting

with each other,’ he declares. ‘It’s something we have here, and we want

to maintain that as we grow.’



But, unlike many small start-ups, MGM has never been truly small. Where

size really matters - in the volume-driven TV market - it is widely

understood that Carat, which took a small stake in MGM one month after

its launch, handles the big negotiations.



Manning refuses to be drawn on the exact nature of the relationship. ‘It

gives our clients a sense of security,’ he concedes. ‘They know MGM

isn’t floating on its own in the big ocean.’



The Carat link is one of the reasons why MGM’s detractors tend to view

it as less than independent. An even bigger shadow was cast by the fact

that Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow and Johnson had a majority stake in

the early years. As Manning and Gottlieb have hit their profit targets,

they have been able slowly to take control of Simons Palmer’s stake,

which currently stands at 43 per cent. If they continue to do so, the

agency will own little more than 30 per cent by the year 2000.



Gottlieb says it was Paul Simons who convinced them to accept the

agency’s backing while they were working together on some Simons Palmer

business at CIA Billett. ‘Had Simons not had the sheer chutzpah to ask

us, we may not have had the bottle,’ Gottlieb says.



Simons is less eager to take the credit. ‘We encouraged them,’ he says.

‘They needed a nudge.’



The venture was as much a financial investment as it was a strategic

move to gain a media partner. And very lucrative it has proved, too,

Simons adds.



Eighty per cent of MGM’s clients are now outside of Simons Palmer. The

company works with a variety of other agencies, from BMP DDB Needham and

J. Walter Thompson to smaller creative hotshops such as Rainey Kelly

Campbell Roalfe.



And just as the pair have learned business lessons from their clients,

they have copied the way agencies such as Rainey Kelly are run. ‘We want

to be more like some of the agencies we work with,’ Gottlieb says,

‘where the partners aren’t stiff, you don’t get dark looks if you’re a

bit late and people are allowed to get on with what they’re doing.’



Gottlieb personifies this attitude more obviously than Manning, who is

said to be as stern as they come when necessary.



‘They’re very different as individuals,’ says David Pattison, a partner

at MGM’s rival, Pattison Horswell Durden. ‘That’s one of their great

strengths.’



The MGM file



1980 Nick Manning joins Chris Ingram Associates

1986 Colin Gottlieb joins Chris Ingram Associates

1990 MGM formed as part of Simons Palmer group

1994 MGM attains independence from Simons Palmer group