MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: Lowe's media men are its only legacy of the glory years

Mark Cranmer, Tony Manwaring, Mike Smallwood, Andy Troullides - it's a bit of a roll-call of the media industry's great and good (well, all right, great-ish and sometimes good). It's also a roll-call of those media luminaries groomed in the media department of Lowe Howard-Spink back in the mid-80s.

Mark Cranmer, Tony Manwaring, Mike Smallwood, Andy Troullides - it's a bit of a roll-call of the media industry's great and good (well, all right, great-ish and sometimes good). It's also a roll-call of those media luminaries groomed in the media department of Lowe Howard-Spink back in the mid-80s.

Looking at that line-up, there's no doubt that Lowe's media operation fostered some of the brightest talent that the media industry has. Rewind 15 years and Lowe's media was considered the smartest department in town; it was certainly one of the most cock-sure and passionate. It was famous for quality (always first in break spots for its clients). It did clever stuff before clever stuff was something you packaged up and sold as a fee-driving USP. It did strategic media before George Michaelides and Graham Bednash invented strategy. It did thinking while most media operations were still doing numbers. And it did research while most of its rivals defined research as looking up the weekly BARB figures. This was media as an industry benchmark.

Then something happened. Call it pig-headed arrogance (I do), call it naivety, call it looking the other way when the wind changed, but Lowe found itself clinging to a lumpen and expensive media offering while all around were getting lean and mean. The new wave of media specialists made Lowe media positioning seem an unaffordable, unnecessary and inflexible luxury.

Without the economies of media specialism, Lowe couldn't compete on volume and price. And as an in-house department, the Lowe media team looked out on a world where media's supremacy was growing, while inside Lowe creativity was still king. The good people wandered off to run media specialists, to take charge of their own destiny and become business people in a way they never could in the suffocating atmosphere of Lowe's media department.

And, of course, all those media specialists realised there were better margins to be made in being clever, in offering creative media strategies, in investing in qualitative research; Lowe's media became simply a poor shadow of what the rest of the market was doing better and more cost-effectively.

By the time Lowe finally admitted that the world had changed and launched Western in 1997, the game was already lost.

The current managing director, Mike Tunnicliffe, has made the best of a bad job, winning some decent media-only pieces of business and retaining the loyalty of the Vauxhall client. But as Western prepares to merge with its sister Interpublic Group media agency, Initiative, there's little to show for the years of Lowe's media glory. Little, that is, apart from the great media people who got out before it was too late and helped make the industry what it is today.



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