MEDIA: PERSPECTIVE - The acquisition of MBS by True North is too little, too late

So True North is lugging itself out of the black hole into which its aspirations of a decent media offering disappeared some time ago.

So True North is lugging itself out of the black hole into which its aspirations of a decent media offering disappeared some time ago.

And it's bought MBS in the UK. And now it hopes to grow its media brand in Europe. Could this be a glimmer of a strategy from True North?

Just in time, really. The clock is ticking on the sale of True North after the group's massive and humiliating defeat at the hands of Daimler Chrysler: dollars 140 million of annual income ripped from the heart of the agency; that's 9 per cent of its revenue gone, puff ...

But too late to make any difference. Both True North and Bozell Worldwide, which it bought in 1998, have resolutely failed to invest in any real international media product. Maybe you could forgive them for dragging their heels a little in the US, where media has moved at a slower pace and clients are more conservative. But both are a shambles in Europe, despite ten years of dealing with media independence here.

Since the Bozell merger, True North has done virtually nothing to patch this gaping wound. Bozell's BJK&E, a joint venture with Tempus, has limped on without any real investment or development strategy. And since the parting with Optimedia, FCB's media has been a mess. In the UK, the agency pussyfooted around until the Banks Hoggins O'Shea acquisition gave them squitty media operation but no hope at all of building any real media brand organically.

So the wallet had to come out eventually. Too late to pluck off any of the really juicy media brands - the ones that would have made a difference in this market and that could have given TN Media a real franchise into Europe. So MBS it was.

But what does TN get for its rumoured pounds 8 million purchase? Well, according to the official line, MBS has billings over dollars 225 million, although the latest MMS figures puts them at pounds 82 million. Now, I don't want to be impolite, and I know from the latest Willott Kingston Smith survey that MBS's parent, Genus Media, turns in a tidy profit (14 per cent margins), but this ain't a whole heap of stardust we're talking about.

MBS is a tired brand with a modest but extremely pale blue-chip client portfolio (think retail, think partworks, although CGNU is a prize other agencies have coveted). It's clearly well managed, but has failed to claim a place among the agenda-setting media agencies and, consequently, has no tangible brand values and no presence outside the UK. Banks Hoggins/FCB's decision to retain its own media planning in house is a further blow that will do the newly engorged MBS no favours.

True North aims to grow its media brand with acquisitions around Europe, but all that's left to buy is of the MBS ilk or worse. The best hope is that Daimler Chrysler precipitates the sale of True North to a network that already has a decent media offering.


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