Starcom MediaVest Group found itself in a strange position last week - keen to announce a change in structural emphasis and celebrate two major UK appointments, yet almost scared to do so, lest anyone drew the wrong conclusions.
All organisations succumb to these sorts of anxieties when contemplating change. They need to reassure themselves and the world that the steps they are taking are more than cosmetic; yet they are desperate to emphasise continuity.
But in Starcom's case, there appeared to be an added layer of uneasiness - management seemed more than naturally sensitive to any implication that this actually amounted to a strategic U-turn.
So, whisper it. Last week's appointments (Alastair Bannerman to the position of managing director at Starcom and Steve Parker to the same role at MediaVest) do indeed have a back-to-the-future resonance. It all feels a little like the set-up in 2003, when there was a clear brand differentiation between the two operating units with Starcom Motive (as it then was) headed by Pete Edwards, and Iain Jacob running things over at Starcom MediaVest.
In the intervening years, as the Starcom-branded media operations were tidied up during Mark Cranmer's reign as the chief executive of Starcom MediaVest Group EMEA ("Motive" disappeared in 2005), the Starcom and MediaVest operations became closer.
This was something manage-ment seemed keen to encourage - pitching itself as a mighty group proposition when the occasion demanded or talking up the granularity of individual operating unit offerings when it suited, not least when client conflict was an issue.
And it didn't help that there were few clear signals coming from its parent company, Publicis Groupe Media. In most markets around the world, Starcom and MediaVest have merged, just as the other Publicis-owned networks, Zenith and Optimedia, merged as far back as 2001. The main exception is the US, where brand heritage considerations and client conflict issues have ensured the continuing existence of two very separate Starcom and MediaVest units.
Sometimes the UK set-up has appeared to fall between two stools, neither merged, nor wholly differentiated. Last week's announcements, revealed by the Starcom MediaVest UK chief executive, Linda Smith, will help clarify that. For now, at least.
1. Starcom MediaVest Group is led on a global basis from Chicago by Renetta McCann. It is a division of Publicis Groupe Media, headed by the chief executive, Jack Klues.
2. In the UK, as in the US and internationally, MediaVest's brand positioning has historically been rooted in buying expertise. The Starcom brand in the UK has emerged from a more complex evolutionary process. The strongest strands of its DNA can be sourced to Motive, the media specialist set up by Bartle Bogle Hegarty in 1995. When Leo Burnett's holding company Bcom3 acquired a stake in BBH in 2000, Motive was merged with Burnett's media brand, Starcom. It was taken over by Publicis when it snapped up Bcom3 in 2002.
3. Smith became the Starcom MediaVest chief executive in January 2006, taking over from Jacob who had stepped up to become the EMEA chief executive following Cranmer's departure. Smith began a restructure that was designed to put digital at the heart of the group. There were departures - the biggest being the former Motive client managing director, Andy Roberts - and the most significant appointments were at group level: Chris Locke was already in place as the group buying director and Stewart Easterbrook as the group managing director, but Pru Parkinson joined as the head of strategy.
4. But leadership of the agency brands was relatively low profile, with Bannerman and Elliot Parkus (his MediaVest opposite number at this point) designated as operations directors. In the current reshuffle, Parkus has been handed a group-wide role overseeing sponsorship.
5. Unfortunately, developments have not advanced the cause of clarity. Separately, MediaVest Manchester, in which Publicis has a minority stake, announced that it wants to position itself as a national instead of a regional brand and will now call itself MediaVest. As opposed to Starcom Media-Vest, which could perhaps now be renamed MediaVest London.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
STARCOM MEDIAVEST GROUP
- It's intriguing that this apparent renewed faith in the group's constituent brands comes at a time when the broader Publicis Groupe is looking at some form of group trading structure that will combine the billings leverage of SMG (£658 million in the UK) and ZenithOptimedia (£565 million).
- In that context, there's more scope for smaller operating units to focus on the quality and personality of their offering, while arguing that trading and leverage issues are all covered off at a group level.
- SMG can only benefit from having a more charismatic and clearly defined leadership at an individual agency level. Rival groups (some of whom are clearly struggling with similar structural issues) will watch with interest.
- Presumably, for existing clients, these appointments will not change things radically. You'd have to assume that they knew about the extent to which the two Starcom MediaVest brands were demarcated and the way that these brands related to group structures and personnel - effectively Smith, Locke and Parkinson.
- Prospective clients may, however, be a different kettle of fish. The appointment of Bannerman and Parker will help the group field a far more focused proposition when it comes to pitches and credentials presentations.