Media Headliner: Vizeum takes leap of faith with planning venture

Matthew Hook has been handed a seat on the board and the reins to the agency's first planning unit, Jump.

The media agency world is full of characters claiming to be reinventing the planning wheel. The latest are the newly christened Jump team at Vizeum. Led by Matthew Hook, who has just been promoted to the agency's board as its managing partner, strategy, the agency has created a bespoke planning team for the first time, having previously eschewed this standalone planning approach.

Hook has taken on responsibility as the agency's senior planner from Matt Andrews, the former joint managing director, who left last month to join Mother. While Andrews' departure could undoubtedly be seen as a blow, Vizeum has at least reacted swiftly to shore up its team of senior planners and to offer something new to clients. Jump was chosen as the name for the planning offer because Vizeum feels it will provide a real "leap forward" in thinking for clients.

It's been a strong year of growth for Vizeum so far (Nielsen Media Research figures for the past 12 months show its billings are up by 21 per cent) and the agency took the right direction with its recent move to specially designed new offices in Fitzrovia's Whitfield Street, more in keeping with its modern positioning than its cramped St Martin's Lane existence.

But the agency hasn't had it all its own way. Despite a good run of going three years without losing a major client (including five successful major account retentions: BMW/Mini, npower, Pernod Ricard, Coca-Cola and Kerry Foods), it has arguably found it more difficult when trying to land large new accounts from clients. For instance, it recently missed out narrowly on the Orange and United Biscuits pitches, while also figuring on the Boots pitch without converting.

And on the personnel side, it has also lost good people. In addition to Andrews' departure, it also saw its managing partner and senior digital player, Ben Wood, move to take on the role of managing director at TradeDoubler. However, it moved swiftly to appoint Paddy Affleck, the former Zed Media and ZenithOptimedia planner, from Profero as its head of digital strategy. Alongside the strategy directors, Chris Stephenson, Dan Plant and Eva Powell, Affleck will form part of a five-strong senior Jump team, led by Hook, responsible for working across the agency and setting its strategic direction.

Hook is aware that the danger is that Jump gets siloed and cut off from the rest of the agency, but says that this won't happen because two-thirds of the Jump team, an additional ten planners, will work full-time on integrating data, research and execution into this approach. Online is important in this, with Affleck leading the effort to work more closely with sister Aegis/Isobar agencies such as glue, Marvellous and de-construct. Stephenson is working on building more constructive relationships with Aegis' other research companies and with ad agencies, citing Mother's "cactus kid" work on Oasis as an example. Vizeum has worked with it on media strategy that means the whole "cactus kid" story is only revealed when consumers are exposed to several media channels, rather than one.

For his part, Hook emphasises the importance of succession management in all of this and says that Andrews took care to mentor him and groom him to take on the senior strategy role when he eventually moved on. Hook joined the agency six years ago, his first job in media, and Grant Millar, the agency's managing director, argues that he was ready to take a step up: "Matthew is a unique talent with an inspirational impact across our business and our clients. He has been key to achieving our new business and 100 per cent retention record, so this is a natural step for him and the agency."

And Hook believes that there is a gap for an ideas-led, strategic media agency to really come to the fore. He says: "We're very up for the idea of creating something quite unique. The industry is ripe for a new way of doing things - having the team in place is not the end part of this. It will be about showing new ways of developing tools and being really focused on processes and the work and becoming famous for being the agency that creates the best in the industry."

Vizeum is among the faster-growing of the mid-sized agencies (and positions itself to its clients as "nimble, lean and efficient"). At the same time, it has effected a significant change in its revenue model, managing to move to an approach where the majority of its income comes from fees rather than commission on media spend.

However, with recession looming and budgets getting tighter, is Hook feeling the pressure in terms of delivering on the investment that has been made in Jump? "Clients are asking for more and more from us - in many cases, we are their most trusted advisors. We're not pushing our people in to see them but gearing up to deliver to the needs of most clients."

In some cases, this is starting to involve developing cases with clients to justify advertising expenditure to their executive board. And Hook confesses to enjoy the whole accountability side of the business. "People sometimes forget how much joy in the process can come from execution and evaluation," Hook argues. "It's like watching the football scores come in."

Vizeum may not have won every match it's played this season, but if Jump can stick to its promises and deliver, it should certainly be moving up the table.

THE LOWDOWN

Age: 29

Lives: Blackheath

Family: Wife, Jo, and daughter, Bella (six months)

Most treasured possession: My piano - received as a collective wedding present, and the perfect way to de-stress

Last book you read: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Interests outside work: Slowly co-writing graphic novels, playing noisy blues music, Mario Kart on Nintendo Wii

Alternative career: Busker.

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