If you want to rebrand, regroup or restructure, do it now. The
media planning and buying industry is taking an extended time out, a
period of intense navel-gazing. It’s been a long time since so many eyes
were off so many balls.
Interpublic is still trying to sort out Western and work out how it and
its other two outfits, Initiative and Universal, all dovetail
MediaVest is about to merge with Leo Burnett’s media department. CIA
Medianetwork has just taken the innovative step of laying off its better
Carat has just lost its media planning director. MindShare has only been
in business a matter of weeks and is still waiting for its bells and
whistles to be delivered.
This is as good a time as any for Zenith Media to relaunch. Again. When
Zenith first launched a decade ago, it was admirably clear about its
It was always going to be big, tough, mean, uncompromising. It was
Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney playing the Richardson gang.
Then the market moved on. Meanness became less fashionable, superseded
by the notion that cleverer could be better. So the planning guru, Andy
Tilley, was brought in to show that Zenith could be mean and clever.
No-one was ever convinced.
At the high point of Tilley’s mission to darkest Paddington, Zenith
employed six people to look after pounds 250 million of planning
business. Saatchi & Saatchi - a fellow Cordiant company - was always
happy to put this in perspective by pointing out that it had 25 staff to
look after pounds 90 million of planning business.
And there was internal resistance too. ’Don’t give me all this flaky
stuff,’ was the notoriously brusque response of Christine Walker, now
the chief executive of Walker Media, when she was asked about the
importance of strategic planning during a 1994 interview. Walker
steadfastly refused to review remuneration methods so that clients could
pay for planning services on a fee basis - thus making this side of the
business self-liquidating rather than appearing on the books as an
alarmingly big overhead.
Walker has obviously moved on, and Zenith has a new team of the chief
executive, Graham Duff, and the managing director, Simon Marquis, now in
place. But has Zenith really changed? According to insiders, Marquis has
become increasingly irritated with the fact that he spends so much time
in presentations talking about strategic planning -and all the client
wants to know is ’how cheap will it be?’.
Last week, he acted, promoting a whole tier of middle managers to the
position of managing partner. It is intended to send a signal that
Zenith has become more focused on the particular communications needs of
Mick Desmond, the chief executive of Granada Media Sales, maintains that
Zenith has been on the right track for some time now. He states: ’I
think the appointment of Simon Marquis was inspired. He is a different
type of networker to Christine, but very good in his own right. And I
think it’s good that Zenith has recognised at last that strategic
planning was previously all smoke and mirrors - Tilley is an incredibly
bright guy, but there was no way he could spin all those plates.
Meanwhile, its buying remains as strong and as efficient as ever. Zenith
is actually in a better position than most of its rivals.’
Critics persist, however. They argue that media brands, just like all
brands, have their own momentum. And corporate cultures evolve
They can’t be changed on a whim. According to the boss of one rival,
Zenith seems obsessed with trying to graft a starred French restaurant
on to the side of a McDonald’s. He doubts the wisdom of this and says
Zenith should stick to its knitting.
Sue Oriel, head of commercial development at Channel 4, knows the
company well. She states: ’Simon Marquis gives an excellent balance to a
previously rather TV dominated management structure. I feel certain that
he will look to develop both people and activities that seriously
reflect the company’s desire to build this part of its business. My
recent experience has definitely confirmed that they are happy to
undertake new activities and to work with clients who wish to take new,
even experimental routes to the consumer.’