Publicis Media names Matt James as Zenith global brand president

Rise of in-housing and economic headwinds top the agenda.

Publicis Media names Matt James as Zenith global brand president

Publicis Media is moving its Australia and New Zealand boss, Matt James, to London to be global brand president of Zenith.

James, who is British and previously ran Zenith in Australia, has had two spells at parent company Publicis Groupe. He worked at the company from 2010 until 2012 in London, and since 2015 in Australia.

He will report to Steve King, chief executive of Publicis Media and former global chief executive of ZenithOptimedia.

"Matt is a highly respected agency leader who has worked in London, Paris and Sydney and been at the forefront of driving growth for many of the world’s leading brands," King said, adding that James had the right "skillset" when it came to three key criteria: clients, products and strategy.

King, one of the most experienced global media agency leaders and a founding member of Zenith in 1988, said the agency has been performing well, citing recent global account wins such as Luxottica and Lactalis, and a Forrester report that rated Zenith as one of the top three global media agencies when it comes to digital transformation capabilities.

However, King warned of significant concerns for the wider media sector.

"The headwinds we face in 2019 include economic chills and in-housing – they are probably the two biggest ones that aren’t going to go away," he said, adding that he was "really concerned" about the potential impact of Brexit on the UK economy as the deadline to exit looms on 29 March.

King, who is also chairman of Publicis Groupe UK, said: "Anyone who’s sitting in the UK is overwhelmingly concerned with Brexit."

However, he remained optimistic about the global opportunity for agency groups and media agencies, in particular.

"If we’re really able to deliver on a promise of better data connectivity with clients to make them better connect with their consumers and serve them with dynamic content, then there’s an opportunity to grow," King added, citing Publicis Media’s GlaxoSmithKline global media win as an example.

James starts at Zenith in London this month and will contine to oversee Publicis Media in Australia and New Zealand until his replacement is named. 

He first joined Publicis Groupe in 2010, spending 18 months as managing director of Starcom UK, before moving to Australia and joining media company Mi9, a joint venture between Microsoft and Nine Entertainment.

James returned to Publicis Groupe when he became chief executive of ZenithOptimedia in Australia and New Zealand in 2015 and was promoted to chief executive of Publicis Media in the region in 2016.

He replaces Vittorio Bonori, global brand president of Zenith since 2016, who has moved back to head Publicis Groupe in Italy.

James said that he was pleased to rejoin Zenith, which he described as "a recognised industry leader with its ROI agency positioning and development in data and technology, experience planning and machine learning".

Campaign's 50th anniversary edition last year named Zenith as one of the top 20 most influential agencies of the past half-century.

King said agency brands remain important to Publicis Groupe, even though it has appointed brand presidents, rather than chief executives, to head its global agencies following a restructuring in 2016.

He acknowledged that some industry observers have asked: "Does Publicis really believe in agency brands? I wanted to reflect that by putting in someone really strong in Zenith [to demonstrate its commitment to the agency]."

James will be based in Publicis Media’s new UK headquarters in White City – a new building to which all of its agencies are moving this spring.

King believes moving to the new "modern, outward-facing building" in west London "will make a huge difference" in terms of internal collaboration and external recruitment, after previously seeing a big benefit when he moved Zenith Optimedia into its London office in Percy Street.

Despite his concerns about Brexit, King ruled out moving resources out of the UK at this stage.

"If we should get some form of much more aggressive Brexit, have we made contingency plans to move some or all of our services out of the UK? No, we haven’t," he said.

However, Publicis Media has plans to invest in more staff in low-cost markets over the next 18 months, particularly in India, where it has a global, delivery centre, to help clients to create dynamic content more cheaply and to counter the threat of in-housing.

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