Media Perspective: Blackett's first task at MediaCom really is to put 'people first'
A view from Jeremy Lee

Media Perspective: Blackett's first task at MediaCom really is to put 'people first'

For someone who by any standards has a lot on her plate, it's also rather ironic that MediaCom's new chief executive is, we are told, "too busy to eat". Well, that's the reason the agency gave after Karen Blackett pulled out of a Headliner piece.

While last week's massacre at ITV has dominated media taproom chat, Blackett's elevation to the top role was largely lost among the celebratory fug of Christmas. It will nonetheless be interesting to see what the agency's former UK marketing director plans to do with her new charge when she has some spare time and after she's sat down for a much-needed square meal.

For a media agency that dominated the past decade, the once unassailable MediaCom has started to look rather precarious of late. While it is still the only UK agency to generate annual billings in excess of £1 billion, it seems to have spent most of the past couple of years running to stand still. It would be easy to point the finger of blame at Blackett's predecessor, Jane Ratcliffe. Easy and unfair - history will judge Ratcliffe, who has now been given the courtesy title of chairman, to have just been an unlucky chief executive.

Having been dealt a tricky hand when Nick Lawson was promoted to run the agency across EMEA, Ratcliffe inherited a management team that had already started to become depleted when Stephen Allan left to run Group M in 2005. This trickle of talent to Group M rapidly turned into a flood when Allan became MediaCom's global chief and ripped out more UK people. It was always going to be difficult for Ratcliffe to recover from this.

Most recently, David Jowett and Sean Healy's names have joined the inscriptions in the MediaCom memorial book that included, among others, Matthew Mee, Mick Mernagh and, possibly most painfully of all given his reputation for being the most knowledgeable person in the industry on direct media, David Kyffin. Worryingly for WPP, Jowett and Healy's talents were lured outside of the group and into Aegis Media and Walker Media respectively.

It all began to look like the first half of MediaCom's corporate mantra - "People first, better results" - was beginning to apply to what was walking out the door and Allan needs to shoulder at least some of the responsibility for any weakening of the UK product.

As for Blackett, she has already had to face up to the resignation of its digital managing partner, Stefan Bardega. He was eventually persuaded to stay part-time, in what looks like a fudge. The key for Blackett is to make MediaCom a place to work that attracts and keeps the best talent. While "people first" might have been exiting the building, it's not long before "business second" follows.