Alongside the anticipated, but exciting, news that Rupert Howell was joining ITV came the rather more low-key announcement that the research and auditing company Thomson Intermedia was installing a new management team.
Thomson is an industry minnow compared with ITV, but the appointments were interesting as they were, in agency terms at least, significant names. Thomson's new chief executive is to be Michael Greenlees, one of the founders of Gold Greenlees Trott and then the chief executive of TBWA\Worldwide. He will be joined by its new chief operating officer, Nick Manning, who left his post as the chief executive of OMD in April.
The names Greenlees and Manning still carry enough cachet to cause a stir. As one agency director put it: "I can't believe Manning's become an auditor." Well, not quite, perhaps, but it's certainly the case that Manning will play a key role in the future of the company that acquired Billetts two years ago.
Some are puzzled that two former high-profile agency names should be going over to a research company. Especially given the circumstances. Thomson is now ten years old, but hasn't had the easiest of times recently. In July, it reported a whopping 24 per cent fall in its profits for the year ending 30 April. Its share price is currently the lowest it has been in the past 12 months. Countering this, Thomson can point to an increase of 15.9 per cent in revenues and a reorganisation of its finances, which has supposedly made it more efficient.
What should be taken into account, perhaps, is the backgrounds of both Greenlees and Manning in building businesses. They launched their own agencies (in Manning's case, the media agency Manning Gottlieb Media) and then went on to wider roles within the Omnicom group.
As Manning puts it: "We wouldn't be doing it if it was not a big, new opportunity. We are both builders and growers, and the task is to harness what we've got. It's like we've been handed a V12 engine that needs to be tuned and then raced."
1Thomson Intermedia was launched in 1997 by the husband and wife team of Steve and Sarah Jane Thomson. The ambition was to offer advertisers and creative agencies a creative monitoring system linked to ad expenditure. This was seen as a point of difference to existing research, which offered adspend monitoring to media departments and media specialists. Thomson subsequently added monitoring to cover direct marketing and editorial coverage. In 2000, the company floated on the AIM, generating £8 million in funds to fuel expansion.
2Thomson's previous joint chief executives will now take back-seat, non-executive roles, but they will remain as the largest shareholders. Greenlees and Manning have been drafted in to kick-start Thomson's expansion, both geographically and in terms of its service offering.
3Thomson's largest acquisition to date was that of Billetts, the auditor and consultancy. It paid £13.1 million in August 2005. The Billetts founder, John Billett, netted close to £10 million from the sale and finally stepped down from the company this April. Thomson's vision was to fuse its monitoring operation with Billetts' consultancy team to create a wider product offering for its clients. Andy Pearch, the chief executive of Billetts, moved to a wider role as the commercial director of Thomson in a bid to sell this offer to advertisers. It will be interesting to see how Pearch and Manning, former colleagues from their CIA Media days, work together in their new relationship.
4The main operations of Thomson are based in Bromley, where it maintains a bunker of more than 200 people providing the technology backbone of the company. This includes monitoring the appearance of every ad in TV, print and online media. Manning says: "This is an iceberg business. Some 85 per cent of it operates below the water line." The Billetts auditing operation continues to work from central London and has an international business, which may serve as a launch pad for more Thomson services overseas.
5While Thomson has predom-inantly targeted the client community, it has recently launched an agency-focused product. Called The Screen, and developed after talks with Group M, it analyses advertising and news stories in the media alongside a more conventional media monitoring system.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- Thomson has big ambitions as it looks to take on its much larger rival Nielsen Media Research. It wants eventually to become the UK standard for evaluating media spend, and it sees the appointment of a new management team as essential for taking it forward.
- International expansion is another key area. It intends to take its products to new markets, having already established joint ventures in Germany and Spain.
- A key part of the challenge for Greenlees and Manning is to continue the process of integrating Thomson's product offering - of bringing its consultancy business, which was born out of Billetts, closer to its monitoring services. According to Manning, it sees a growing need from advertisers for "high-end analysis, strategy and implementation", especially in monitoring and consulting on online advertising.
- In short, a harder, stronger sell from Thomson. The research company already has more than 300 clients and will be striving to add to this with new product developments for advertisers.
- The first of these is Brandzone, a product that provides clients with a homepage to monitor all advertising for its brands and products across all media. It combines this with historical and wider industry data.