Media Network of the Year 2013: Group M

The WPP juggernaut's success is down to more than just size. It has raised the bar for media agency management and given individual networks the freedom to apply bespoke client solutions.


The more we delved into the best-performing media networks in 2013, the more obvious our choice became.

When Maxus this summer won the mammoth £135 million L’Oréal business, the largest UK media account of the year, its chief executive, Lindsay Pattison, was quick to thank the Group M network for its support.

In total, 28 different Group M operations helped win L’Oréal. These included the consumer insight specialists Kantar and Millward Brown, along with MEC, which holds the business in Canada and Germany, and Mindshare, which looks after the brand in China and Mexico.

This instrumental role of Group M is repeated in the success stories for MediaCom, Mindshare and Kinetic. It has also manifested itself in the continued formation of dedicated networks for global clients in 2013, including Plus for the fashion house Chanel in July and OneDanone for the food giant in November. They sit alongside established Group M offerings such as Blue Hive for Ford, Red Square for Colgate and Primus for Johnson & Johnson. Such moves are the result of "horizontality", according to the WPP boss, Sir Martin Sorrell – something he translates for the layman as "getting people to play together".

The scale of Group M is plain for all to see – it handles global billings in the region of $90 billion, or approximately 30 per cent of all global media, according to Recma. But, beyond its buying muscle, the broad and intangible focus of Group M is also said to be the "intelligent application of physical and intellectual scale to innovation and new communication services".

The flexibility it offers individual agencies, combined with its consolidated strength, is unmatched culturally by any other marketing group. The success of this backbone is also, no doubt, top of mind as the architects of the Publicis Omnicom Group look to make sense of its newly combined force, due to be ratified around the middle of 2014.

Meanwhile, the programmatic buying platform Xaxis has grown from strength to strength worldwide, as has the performance marketing agency Quisma, as online marketing takes centre stage along with the need for SEO, affiliate marketing, display advertising and conversion.

Similarly, Group M’s fully fledged mobile offer H-art, which began life as a full-service interactive agency in Italy, has become an invaluable tool for servicing multi-market clients.

But behind every global behemoth are the people. Making a centralised global group offer actually work is no mean feat, and full credit must go to the Group M leadership that has worked tirelessly in the background to make things happen.

At the centre sits Dominic Proctor, the president of Group M Global. He is joined by Rob Norman, the chief digital officer, and Kelly Clark, the chief executive of Group M North America. At a local level, Nick Theakstone, the chief executive of Group M UK, must be credited for his combination of consistency and ambition.

The benefits of Group M’s approach will become apparent again in 2014, when its ability to maximise the performance of WPP agencies specialising in content creation and sport is set to pay dividends during next year’s Fifa World Cup in Brazil. Some 3.2 billion people watched the 2010 World Cup globally, and the forthcoming football extravaganza looks likely to be even bigger.

The opportunities for marketers are boundless, and it should be no surprise that Group M has already positioned itself to reap the benefits for its client base, which includes major clients such as Barclays, Volkswagen, Kimberly-Clark, BT, Ford, Kraft Foods, Pepsi and Unilever.

Gonzalo Del Fa, the president of Group M Multicultural, said: "So many clients are looking at this asset as a global initiative, not just a local effort. The main goal is to identify the right media partners for our clients that will deliver the highest reach but also the strongest engagement. And we are not only talking about using one specific medium – we want to create communication platforms that can leverage multiple assets to surround the consumer during those 30 days where it is all about ‘futbol’."

To make a big business bigger is impressive, but to make a big business bigger and better even more so. Group M has collectively set a new standard for media agency management and, in the process, enabled its individual networks to focus on more bespoke client solutions.

Recent winners: Carat (2012); Maxus (2011); Carat (2010); no winner (2009); OMD (2008)