Simon Davis' departure from Blue 449 in April – just one month after its founder Phil Georgiadis left – came with a whiff of high dudgeon.
My colleague Gideon Spanier revealed that there was also chat that he disagreed with the decision by Publicis Groupe to make Blue 449 (previously known as Walker Media) part of the Spark Foundry network. And the quote that accompanied the press release announcing his new venture seems to corroborate this.
It read: "The move to impersonal, centralised specialist practices by the big holding companies may serve the biggest-spending global clients, but it has hollowed out their media agencies and damaged the quality of their service to mid-sized and smaller clients who are now being neglected." Ouch.
These words are not so different from those made by Christine Walker when she left Zenith 22 years ago to set up Walker Media. In an interview with Campaign at the time, she said: "When you have 300-odd clients, like at Zenith, it’s clearly difficult to give all of them the attention they need." Older readers may remember that the circumstances of Walker’s were much more acrimonious than Davis’ issues and nearly ended up in the high court.
Davis and Walker before him are not saying anything particularly new, of course. But they, and several others, are now doing something about it. The independent media sector looks wonderfully buoyant all of a sudden.
For years, the only independent media agency that could claim to be a successor to Walker Media was the7stars (Goodstuff Communications launched with the support of Manning Gottlieb OMD). But we are now seeing a succession of individuals, seemingly disillusioned with their lives determined by the profit targets of the holding companies, going it alone. And good luck to them.
When Walker stepped aside in 2007, Davis took on at least some of the responsibilities she had. Co-founder Georgiadis was the thoughtful, measured one, with Davis the commercial brain – up for a scrap with a media owner on behalf of his clients. If Georgaidis was gentle Jesus, Davis could turn on the wrath of God (when needed). Simplistic, maybe, but neat enough – and showed the two had complementary skills. When Georgiadis left earlier this year, that cycle that had existed since the agency was founded was broken.
And so to Walk-In Media – a cheeky reference to his former home. In a typically shrewd move of which Walker would be proud, Davis has set up the agency "with backing from" MSQ Partners. He is the sole shareholder but will have access to its resources, most notably in performance marketing from Twentysix. In return, MSQ can beef up its existing and somewhat puny media capabilities and, in time and subject to targets, acquire Walk-In Media.
For MSQ, which picked up private-equity backing earlier this year and has already made interesting recent hires with Jamie Elliott running The Gate and Charles Courtier as chairman, it has given this previously sleepy little group a big shot of adrenaline.