The WPP agency, in the UK rather than on the international stage, was the runt of WPP's media litter - born out of a below-stairs marriage between its less-than-thoroughbred parents, CIA UK and The Media Edge. This was a feeling that was only exaggerated when WPP took on board the MediaCom UK powerhouse following its acquisition of Grey.
However, after the usual period of instability that follows an agency merger, MEC appears to have hit a rich vein of form that suggests it has finally turned the corner. Its new-business record is impressive, boosted in the past two weeks with the capture of the Danone and Blockbuster accounts.
It also seems to have raised its game in terms of the work that it is producing for clients; the capture of a number of strategic briefs from COI is evidence of this.
The reasons for this resurgence seem to be two-fold. Importantly, for the first time in more than half a decade, the Paris Gardens operation has a strong management team. Tom George, the agency's managing director, who is passionate, intelligent and incredibly hard-working, has had a greater measure of success than its CIA predecessors, including Fiona McAnena and David Wheldon.
His appointment was a good move by MEC's then chairman, Rob Norman, who has since moved to the US to focus solely on WPP's digital operations as the global chief executive of MEC Interaction. Norman may have taken his time in hiring George in early 2004 but, following the departure of Matt James, the managing director before George who left to join Naked Ambition after just a few months in the role, he was right to be cautious.
George has presided over a quiet revolution at MEC, not bringing in flashy names, but promoting internally for positions such as head of press and head of broadcast. He has also led a progression in MEC's non-traditional services, such as sponsorship and digital, which now account for more than half of the agency's revenues.
The strength of George and his core team notwithstanding, the second factor behind MEC's success seems to be that it is the WPP UK agency that has benefited the most from the creation of Group M. New business has since flowed into the agency on the back of Group M's increased buying clout (after all, MEC was ranked as only the UK's 12th-largest media agency in 2005). However, the fact that it has won in pitches against rival WPP media agencies shows that it is more than capable of standing on its own two feet.