School Reports 2013: Initiative


Score: 5  Last year: 6

Initiative was the subject of speculation towards the end of 2012 and, eventually, there was substance to the rumour that the chief executive, Alex Altman, would be leaving the agency when his departure was announced in early March 2013. Last year, Initiative remained afloat under Altman but the storms seemed to be gathering. In early 2013, Burger King, the agency’s second-largest client (behind Tesco), announced a review.

Back to 2012, and the appointment of Anna Watkins from the digital agency Grand Union as the Initiative managing director and head of digital was a good response to criticisms that the agency looked old-fashioned compared with its rivals. And it seemed to pay off, as Initiative claimed strong revenue growth from existing clients, reflecting the increasing scope of work such as web design, social media strategy and econometric modelling.

More traditional gains were thin on the ground. After claiming to have "stormed" Campaign’s new-business table in 2011, Initiative did not really show up in 2012. Of its ten new clients, Sonos was the biggest and, of the others, Malaysia Airlines was the only one to resonate. Yet the agency claimed it had its best new-business year in ten years.

Initiative is still able to attract talent. Although its long-standing strategist Tony Regan left towards the end of 2012, it was part of a change that saw Jonathan Fowles join in an international planning role in early 2013.

Speculation continues to surround the future of Initiative’s relationship with Tesco (but, then again, when hasn’t it?). A key task for Watkins, now in charge after Altman’s departure, is to make the business less dependent on this client. With the memory of past triumphs becoming increasingly distant, Initiative needs to ramp up its new-business effort if it is to convince the doubters.

Type of agency Media
Company ownership Interpublic
Key personnel Anna Watkins managing director and head of digital
Chris Wright joint head of investment
Jane Wolfson joint head of investment
Julie Hamshere head of research
Nielsen billings 2012 £172m
Nielsen billings 2011 £185m
Declared income n/s*
Total accounts at year end 68
Accounts won 10 (biggest: Sonos)
Accounts lost 1 (ZSL)
TV 43%
Press 35%
Outdoor 6%
Radio 3%
Online including search 12%
Cinema 1%
Number of staff 113 (+17%)

Score key: 9 Outstanding 8 Excellent 7 Good 6 Satisfactory 5 Adequate 4 Below average 3 Poor 2 A year to forget 1 Survival in question

Footnote: *indicates where agencies claim the corporate governance constraints of the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation.

How Initiative rates itself: 7

"2012 has been another year of significant and understated progress. We have reshaped our leadership team around fresh talent such as Anna Watkins, Julie Hamshere, Steve Henderson and Tania Harwood. The result was 99% client retention and organic growth from clients and new business income at their highest level for 10 years. Annual churn is only 17%, reflecting our continued focus on hiring and retaining great people and helping them to flourish and be brilliant."