School Reports 2016: Initiative

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The end of a relationship is rarely easy but Initiative's loss of Tesco to MediaCom after a 20-year marriage in April last year was brutal.

Britain’s biggest supermarket was worth £125 million in billings and Initiative has had to slim down a lot, reducing its workforce by a quarter.

The departures included Andy Jones, the UK chief executive of IPG Mediabrands, the parent company of Initiative, who announced his departure in December.

The managing director, Sally Weavers, who has been in her role since 2013, is candid about the extent of the rebuilding job, but has some reasons to be cheerful.

Tesco’s online rival, Amazon, is one of Initiative’s biggest clients and raised its offline spend by more than a third last year with several TV campaigns – including Joint’s "little friend" for Amazon Prime, which featured a woman who orders a cat flap-type door so a little horse can come into her house.

Amazon Fire TV was the biggest piece of new business won from an existing client and there is the possibility of more to come with the launch of the new Jeremy Clarkson-fronted motoring show.

Initiative won Mothercare from Rocket and Goodstuff Communications, and picked up two more accounts, Marathon Bet and Bloodwise, during 2015, but lost Ancestry.

Weavers talks about trying to foster "a start-up spirit" without a "lengthy chain of command" in its Clerkenwell office and increasing the use of smart analytics. But Initiative must live up to its name as it needs a lot more new business to make up for the Tesco shortfall. Every little helps, as Weavers would probably prefer not to say these days.

How the agency rates itself: 4

"The first half of 2015 was dominated by the loss of Tesco. But we moved on, restructuring into hybrid teams to make us more agile, more digitally focused and more creative. Organic growth from existing clients and new-business wins have kept revenue strong. 2016 is already looking good and we feel positive moving forward."

Type of agency Media
Company ownership Interpublic
Nielsen billings 2015 £131m
Nielsen billings 2014 £167m
Declared income n/s*
Total accounts at year end 32
Accounts won 3 (biggest: Mothercare)
Accounts lost 2 (biggest: Tesco)
Traditional media 71%
Digital media 29%
Number of staff 90 (-27%)
Key personnel

Sally Weavers, managing director
Lee Ramsay, head of innovation
Ben Walton, head of digital
Vanessa Doyle, head of publishing and digital trading
James Temperley, head of broadcast

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.