School Reports 2016: Blue 449

Currys PC World
Currys PC World

After 18 years with Christine Walker's name above the door, Walker Media became Blue 449 in March 2015 and part of a new global media agency network aligned to Publicis Groupe's ZenithOptimedia. With a sweet, if slightly pretentious, nod to history, the name comes from the point on the spectrum where Walker Media's purple and the blue of ZenithOptimedia meet. 

A couple of months before the big reveal, Blue 449 had already got off to a strong start, winning the consolidated £90 million Dixons Carphone account. To retain Dixons (the owner of Currys PC World) and pick up Carphone Warehouse – tugging at the close relationship between The & Partnership’s Johnny Hornby and the Carphone Warehouse founder, Sir Charles Dunstone, in the process – was quite a coup.

Blue 449 captured 12 further pieces of business, including the Rail Delivery Group, Clarins and Puma. In a testament to the strength of Blue 449’s relationships, Niall O’Keeffe, a former Dixons executive, hired the agency to the media account for his new employer, David Lloyd Leisure, ahead of a big marketing push. The chemicals giant BASF became the network’s first international win in October. Less welcome news came from Halfords and Weetabix, which moved to Dentsu Aegis Network’s Carat and Vizeum respectively.

Following a difficult 2014 in which Walker Media said goodbye to Marks & Spencer after many years of lobbying from WPP, Blue 449 set a solid foundation in 2015. And it’s a good job – the School Reports went to press as Publicis Groupe announced a restructure of its media arm, which will lead to more change in 2016.

How the agency rates itself: 8

"Successfully metamorphosing from Walker Media to Blue 449 involved a fresh structure, a distinctive open-source planning approach and new offices overseas – six by December 2015 with 11 more planned – producing a tangible upgrading of our offering for clients. The momentum, which started in January with the Dixons Carphone pitch win, continued throughout 2015 with 13 new account wins for a net billings gain of £60 million. A landmark year for the agency."

Blue 449
Type of agency Media
Company ownership Publicis Groupe and M&C Saatchi
Nielsen billings 2015 £171m
Nielsen billings 2014 £177m
Declared income n/s
Total accounts at year end 42
Accounts won 13 (biggest: Carphone Warehouse)
Accounts lost 2 (biggest: Weetabix)
Traditional media 70%
Digital media 30%
Number of staff 150 (+11%)
Key personnel Simon Davis, chief executive
Phil Georgiadis, chairman
Jon Horrocks, chief investment officer
Anthony Swede, head of planning
Richard Dance, head of digital

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.