Media Headliner: Mild-mannered media man takes over Europe

Iain Jacob might look like a cartoon sidekick, but Starcom MediaVest's new EMEA chief is no mean operator.

It would be all too easy to dismiss Iain Jacob as the mild-mannered man of media. Put this down to his Penfold-from-DangerMouse appearance or his approachable, unpretentious style, but it soon emerges that he should not be underestimated.

Any man who can survive 12 years working with Mark Cranmer - Jacob's former Motive boss and the man he is succeeding as the chief executive of Starcom Media-Vest for Europe, the Middle East and Africa - with mutual respect still intact is no mean operator.

Jacob confesses his management style might not be as confrontational as Cranmer's but says he can stand his ground: "Mark has never liked working with yes men or people who copy him. We've had extremely robust conversations at times, but he's been a good leader with a vision and I'm glad he's given me a platform to build on."

Cranmer announced in July he would be leaving Starcom Media-Vest to seek pastures new. Almost immediately, informal discussions began with Jacob about filling the role. News of his appointment leaked out just a week after Jack Klues, the former global chief executive of Starcom MediaVest, was confirmed as the chairman of Publicis' new media holding operation, Publicis Groupe Media.

An untidy situation, perhaps, but one Jacob says was unavoidable because he was seeking assurances from Starcom MediaVest's new chief executive, Renetta McCann, before putting pen to paper. "I needed a new challenge," Jacob says. "But I didn't want the EMEA job if it didn't come with more resource. A big part of it is the commitment to resource the HQ."

Jacob has secured the backing to appoint a central management executive to run the region, which will include an operations director, a marketing director and a "senior client leader". A group chief executive to replace him in the UK is also high on Jacob's shopping list.

Jacob has managed UK media businesses since 2000, when he was made the managing director of Motive. His first job in media was as a TV buyer at BMP. This came after he gained a degree in chemistry at Nottingham University before taking a job organising the Harrogate Arts Festival, booking acts including Elvis Costello.

After BMP, Jacob joined Richard Eyre's newly created media department at Bartle Bogle Hegarty. He was part of the launch team when Motive was spun out of BBH and became its international media director, delivering work across markets for the likes of Levi's, Shell and Heineken.

In 2003, Jacob moved over to Starcom's Mediavest office as its managing director, as the company looked to streamline its UK operations. A promotion to group managing director followed and, the COI TV buying loss aside, Jacob leaves a UK legacy of two Starcom offices in fairly rude health and, outside PHD, a creative reputation unmatched by other major buying agencies.

Despite Starcom MediaVest's weakness in Europe when compared with the likes of Carat and OMD Europe, Jacob feels he has a great opportunity.

He says Cranmer has done the infrastructure bit, buying businesses in markets such as Spain and Sweden where the network needed strengthening, and that Starcom MediaVest agencies are number three in Italy, top in Russia and strong in Sweden and the Middle East.

And, rather than being stymied by Publicis' relatively late creation of a media holding company (PGM was launched a year ago), he feels this presents an opportunity: "If you look at Starcom MediaVest, it's a very young company - just five years old - and Publicis Groupe Media is only a year old. It's a youthful network with a young, feisty management team."

PGM now has a distinct executive team in markets such as Germany and the Nordic region, but Jacob says its impact on the UK and many other key markets is still being defined by Klues. "We can use the PGM infrastructure to change the market rather than just chuck things together and buy cheaper," he argues.

But what challenges does he face across the EMEA region? "It's about making sure the proposition will work going forward. Volume leadership is fine, but what I want is reputation leadership, thought leadership. That's what I've been used to throughout my time at BMP, Bartle Bogle Hegarty and then Motive - it's working out how to do things differently."

Jacob talks passionately about the media agency role in understanding customer behaviour: "What makes Starcom special is we have more audience understanding and expertise than anybody else ... I'm not in the market to buy a digital creative business or brand consultancy - it's all about being in the business of being clear on how clients relate to the consumer."

He believes that international networks have yet to get their heads around this and that his key challenge is to recreate some of the UK craft skills he's learned on a bigger stage: "There is an opportunity for media businesses to be more exciting on a global scale. Is there anyone in the market who has created a truly exciting business on that scale? No, so there is clearly an opportunity, but there is a danger because some companies are going the other way, of driving things down to the lowest level."

THE LOWDOWN Age: 43 Lives: Clapham, London Family: Wife, Kathryn Jacob, son Archie Jacob (aged five), daughter Alexa Jacob (aged three months) Most treasured possession: CD collection Interests outside work: Family, photography, cycling, watching rugby, cooking, travelling Describe yourself in three words: Passionate, pushy, perky Motto: Think clear, act fast