PERSPECTIVE: Zenith must forget Walker if it’s to win the big global race

If only we could have made it fit, I would like to have headlined this column: ’Zenith, part two - in which John Perriss makes a phone call’.

If only we could have made it fit, I would like to have headlined

this column: ’Zenith, part two - in which John Perriss makes a phone


That’s because, as keen readers will remember, in this column three

weeks ago I described Zenith’s forthcoming ownership arrangements as a

bit of a ’bugger’s muddle’ and, in a fit of charity - or foolhardiness

(take your pick) - challenged Lord Perriss of Paddington to pick up the

phone and argue the toss.

This he did, although for various reasons I thought it best to time

publication of his reply with this week’s feature on the global media

shoot-out (page 28). In the best interactive traditions, therefore, I

now bring you ’The World According to Perriss’.

Except that first we should take a quick detour to consider Zenith’s

decision last week to enforce its contract with the former Duchess of

Paddington, Christine Walker. On one level, this is straightforward. At

such a sensitive time, Zenith needs to be seen to protect the interests

of its shareholders. But on another level, it looks shabby, which is

something, given its previous experiences (with certain M&C Saatchi

staff), Cordiant ought by now to understand. Two questions need to be

asked. First, why is Zenith running so scared of a woman who hasn’t yet

got any staff or clients? Second, what will Zenith’s clients think?

Surely they won’t like being told who they can and cannot speak to.

However, while I think this matter makes Zenith look insecure, it does

not necessarily invalidate the main thrust of Perriss’s argument with

me, which is that far from being a disadvantage, having two agency

shareholders is a positive for Zenith because - as the agency world has

belatedly realised - you ain’t nobody without a credible global media

operation. Without access to one, what are Bates and Saatchi other than

creative boutiques? Global, maybe, but still only boutiques.

Now, you can argue that Perriss is only making the best of a bad job

here, but where he and I agree is that five years down the road, there

will probably be only four or five genuinely global media players. The

question then becomes this: will Zenith be one? Perriss, naturally,

believes it will, and he says its heritage means it is at least as well,

if not better placed than nearly all the competition.

How so? Well, as readers of our feature can see, most of the new global

media wannabes are still at embryo stage, both strategically (except

Omnicom and WPP) and operationally. The only ones that genuinely aren’t

- Aegis and CIA - lack a global reach and, so far, an agency partner or

partners with which to do it. Zenith, in Perriss’s terms, has both. It’s

a shame, then, that it is allowing itself to be distracted from its

global ambitions by behaving in a small-minded way in what is

essentially a local dispute.