MEDIA: HEADLINER; TMBG set for empire building on Allan’s strong foundations

Steve Allan’s sartorial style belies his business mind,Anne-Marie Crawford says

Steve Allan’s sartorial style belies his business mind,Anne-Marie

Crawford says

Colin Gottlieb told me to check out the suit first. ‘If he’s wearing

Armani or Versace, there’s something seriously wrong,’ he warned.

Those who know Steve Allan, managing director of the Media Business,

know that the likelihood of him turning out in smooth designer threads

is about equal to the chairman, Allan Rich, shopping at Mr Byrite.

Gottlieb cheerfully admits to taking the piss out of Allan’s fashion

sense to his face, adding mischievously that, although Allan was in the

year below him at school, Allan is ‘33 going on 53’.

Then there’s the story about the time the Media Business Group was

preparing to shoot its corporate video and the new-business director,

Nick Lawson, pleaded with Allan not to wear his favoured pinstriped suit

and City shirt because it would upset the picture. In the event, Allan

did turn up in pinstripes, but at least Lawson managed to get him to

take his jacket off...

He sounds depressingly like a serious young fogey in a boring suit. But

still, what I’m really here to discover is the stuff Allan himself is

made of and to hear more about TMBG’s plans for expansion and global

domination following the launch of its new Manchester office (see news


Waiting in the reception area on the first floor, the agency seems

strangely deserted. There is club-type music pumping out from one of the

adjacent meeting rooms, and a surprising selection of style magazines

jostling for space with the Financial Times.

I’m just settling down happily with a copy of the Face, when Allan

himself appears. He’s not wearing a jacket, but the shirt is plain

white, the tie is not stripey and the trousers are inoffensive. So far,

so good.

True, the hair is thin and he could probably pass for nearer to 40 than

30, but Allan appears fresh, greets me enthusiastically and starts

chatting about all the old ladies they’d had in the agency that morning

(shareholders attending the AGM you understand, not potential clients)

before whisking me off on a tour of the building.

The boardroom first with its drum ’n’ bass soundtrack and untouched

plates of biscuits, the computer in reception where visitors can surf

the Net, then upstairs to the main hub of the agency, where people work

busily on TMBG’s many and varied accounts and Rich hovers Hitchcock-like

in the background.

Back downstairs in a meeting room, tour concluded, Allan pours me coffee

and I note the stylish gold cufflinks that glint at his wrists (perhaps

he’s borrowed them from Rich). He seems so friendly and eager to please

that I feel a bit mean hitting him with accusations of being dull.

TMBG is an outfit whose profile has stubbornly refused to grow in line

with its achievements. Examine the facts: in just three years, the

company has tripled in size, from Register-MEAL billings of pounds 48

million to some pounds 153 million, according to latest figures.

It has a sparkling new-business record: this year alone, the agency has

put on pounds 35 million worth of new business - most recently, the

pounds 5 million RAC account, which was handed over without a pitch. It

hasn’t lost a client in 18 months. Allan can’t remember who the last one


Add to that its increasingly rare independent status and a successful

partial flotation last year (Campaign, 1 September 1995) and you’ve got

one hot ticket - haven’t you?

Allan admits that the lack of an in-your-face quality has rankled at

times, but adds: ‘We don’t worry too much about profile and fame. We

want to be a successful business and that comes if you do a good job.’

That means TMBG is a steady ship, ‘we don’t have the same highs and lows

as others’, and if that makes it seem dull or serious at times, then the

agency has learned to roll with it.

Allan himself is all too aware that he is an easy target for the slings

and arrows his peers might - and do - aim in his direction. He’s worked

at the agency for 15 years, he’s not a big drinker, he doesn’t do lunch,

he plays golf and he’s a private family man who plays a reluctant after-

hours role in the media circus. Moreover, Rich, his chairman, is a

flamboyant and unusual character beside whom most personalities would


When Allan says he is perfectly happy being himself you believe him. The

truth is, he is a perfect foil to Rich and between them the pair harbour

tremendous ambition. With Manchester as the catalyst, the two have now

embarked on an era of empire building which will result in such changes

in the years ahead that TMBG will de facto become the agency to watch.

And all of it played out under the watchful eye of the City. It could be

anything but dull.

The Allan file

1982 The Media Business Group, trainee media executive

1985 TMBG, associate director

1987 TMBG, board director

1988 TMBG, head of new business

1993 TMBG, group managing director


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