Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week
Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week
A view from Arif Durrani

MediaCom bags its grocer after a great Saturday job

When Karen Blackett called a dozen senior executives into her third-floor office last Wednesday afternoon, the enormity of the occasion was almost too much to bear.

MediaCom’s chief executive was the first to break into tears upon announcing that they had won Tesco’s media business. In a room that included her pitching colleagues Chris Binns and Phil Hall, as well as the chief strategy officer, Sue Unerman, the chief operating officer, Josh Krichefski, and the chairman, Jane Ratcliffe, Blackett was not the only one to be overwhelmed by emotion.

The win includes £100 million of media for Tesco stores, £12 million for Tesco Bank and £11 million (and growing) for Tesco Mobile, as well as €15 million of billings in Ireland, taking total billings to £135 million.

It’s the kind of client that would swallow up most agencies, but the enormous bench strength at MediaCom means it is confident of being ready for Tesco’s "back to school" campaign this summer.

'Since MediaCom lost Boots to OMD, the UK’s biggest media shop has been seeking a blockbuster grocery client'

Ever since MediaCom lost Boots to OMD in 2008, the UK’s biggest media shop has been seeking a blockbuster grocery client. It’s fair to say (although no-one will thank me) that it has been circling Tesco in particular.

As the UK’s largest retailer, serviced by the embattled Initiative, Tesco has never really been far from the thoughts of those at 124 Theobald’s Road. The poaching of Initiative’s managing director, Danny Donovan, in the summer of 2010 laid bare MediaCom’s raw ambition.

But, against the odds and to the credit of Initiative, Tesco spurned any advances and actually extended its existing relationship. Then in came a new chief executive, Dave Lewis, last summer, propelled by a transformation agenda. The former Unilever marketer and straight-talking Yorkshireman was present for all the pitches on the last Saturday in April, accompanied by the outgoing chief creative officer, Matt Atkinson, and the new group brand director, Michelle McEttrick.

Held in the supermarket's Piccadilly office, like the review itself the pitches were short and focused. One hour per agency for presentations and Q&As. The benchmarking around media pricing had all been carried out beforehand, the pitches were all about strategy.

Ever since taking the top job Lewis has been clear about his desire to change Tesco in the minds of customers, and he believes – rightly – that Tesco's considerable owned, earned and paid media will all play a vital role in shifting perceptions. He wanted to know how the vying agencies would help the lumbering retailer better leverage these assets. It was a big morning for Blackett and a big moment for MediaCom.

It seemed fitting that news of Lewis' decision broke during Media Week’s milestone 30th birthday celebrations – welcome relief, no doubt, from the WPP introspection about how Tracy De Groose and Dentsu Aegis Network had been able to lure Mark Creighton away from the top job at Mindshare.

MediaCom is not going to be working alone, and Blackett made a point of looking forward to partnering with ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty and PR specialist Blue Rubicon to tackle the Tesco challenge. The CEO was similiarly transparent when she said: "Tesco are a brand we've admired and an organisation we've wanted to work with for years. We're so glad we've been given the opportunity".

But not everyone was celebrating. Initiative’s Sally Weavers admits it feels "very much like a divorce". At 24 years, it is the agency’s longest-standing client – among the longest in the industry – and is worth 60 per cent of its entire business. New chapters now begin for both agencies.