SPOTLIGHT ON: MEDIA ACADEMIES: Does the phenomenon of the media academy exist today? - Who is nurturing the next generation of high flyers? Alasdair Reid investigates

The disappearance of the Lowe Howard-Spink media department into Western International Media this week has been an excuse to get nostalgic.

The disappearance of the Lowe Howard-Spink media department into

Western International Media this week has been an excuse to get


The department, especially in the early to mid-80s, was one of the great

media academies, producing a generation of top talent. Its old lags

include Mark Cranmer, now the managing director of Motive; Andy

Troullides, the managing director of Mediacom; Tony Manwaring, the

managing director of Initiative Media; and Tony Wheble, the sales

director of Flextech TV.

Were they the product of a particularly invigorating and fruitful

corporate culture? Or are we talking coincidence? Of course, it’s not

the only example of a media school. Back in the 70s the Masius media

department had this role. Some claim that Leo Burnett and Granfield

Rorke Collins had their day. More recently, two strong streams fed into

Zenith - the Bates Dorland no-nonsense school of TV time buying and the

tribe that Ray Morgan led out of the Benton and Bowles media department

when he set up RMP. The old Anglia TV sales operation produced not only

a significant chunk of ITV senior management - such as Malcolm Wall -

but was a fertile training ground for those on the other side of the

fence - Zenith’s chief executive, Graham Duff, for example.

What’s the secret? Why do some companies turn red hot for a while and

become the focus for a generation? And where are the current


Zenith, perhaps? Duff admits it sometimes feels as if he pays to educate

the industry, but he remains sceptical about the notion of


’The Lowes lot just happen to be talented boys. That type of opportunity

is rarer these days. But in terms of training related to craft skills,

in most industries the best grounding is given by the brand leader. On

the marketing side, think of Unilever or Procter and Gamble. My rivals

seem very keen to employ Zenith people.’

True, half the people in the industry seem to have worked at Zenith at

some time. Strangely, though, it gets very few votes.

This isn’t really about training, anyway. It’s about setting the

industry agenda. Manwaring agrees that opportunities are rarer these

days. ’At Lowes we had a blank sheet of paper and a commitment to a

philosophy - a creative force that ran through the whole agency,’ he

states. ’In terms of going shopping for staff, there’s no single place

to go now. You can’t point to an operation and say that you know exactly

what sort of people work there or whether they tend to be of a certain


Have the opportunities become rarer? Steve Booth, a graduate of the

Dorlands time-buying school and now the managing partner of Booth

Lockett Makin, thinks that could be true, regrettably. He believes the

industry has lost some of its nerve. ’A recent lack of recruitment

intake means that there is a premium on systems rather than talent,’ he


’Academies happen when a company manages to get ahead of the game for a

while and the people there have insights that the rest of industry wants

to grab hold of. Because of the recession and centralisations, the

current generation is numbers- rather than ideas-based. People tend to

play it safe instead of striving to be different and effecting


That’s not a view that everyone agrees with. Simon Mathews, the chief

executive of Optimedia, concedes there has been a convergence of

standards across the industry, but that standards have gone up, not

down. ’Quality and professionalism have increased massively across the

board in the past ten years. People spend less time in the pub now,’ he

points out. ’In the old days, if you were good you tended to shine. It’s

less of an issue these days.’