SPOTLIGHT ON: ZENITH MEDIA: Perriss must prepare to face up to his toughest challenge - The pressure is on for the world chairman to deliver answers

’Last Monday morning, as details of what was happening began to emerge, three or four of us sat down and started to go through the implications.

’Last Monday morning, as details of what was happening began to

emerge, three or four of us sat down and started to go through the


We could see that some of it didn’t add up but reckoned there were far

brighter people than us within the group and they would put us


We’re still waiting to hear the answers.’ The speaker is a senior media

executive in a Cordiant operating company - and he is talking about the

group’s imminent restructure and how it will affect Zenith Media.

Zenith’s worldwide chairman, John Perriss, has his work cut out. Over

the past week, the murmuring in the ranks has got louder.

The Perriss line is that the demerger of Cordiant into two listed agency

groups, both of which will have a 50 per cent stake in Zenith Media

Worldwide, will strengthen Zenith (Campaign, last week). It will be more

clearly branded as a media independent, the shareholding structure will

be cleaner.

In the past, the creative agencies had no stake in Zenith’s success

because all profit went straight to Cordiant. The new structure will

ensure the two networks will benefit directly from Zenith’s future

success - both Saatchi and Saatchi and Bates will do everything to

guarantee that success.

So investment won’t be a problem - especially as a third source could be

forthcoming. Cordiant is looking for a major global partner to take a

stake in the network and a number of possible investors have been

mooted, including DMB&B, Young and Rubicam and Leo Burnett. Extra

funding would allow Zenith to establish itself in the US and in

continental Europe, expand in Asia and enter the Latin American


’There’s a lot of nonsense being talked about potential Zenith

partners - I hope it’s not coming from the top at Zenith,’ a source

said. ’It’s not so much kite-flying as plucking names from the air.’

And there is scepticism about how an investment strategy would be


If agency A pulls in a client that needs a major Zenith expansion in

Asia, at the same time as agency B pulls in a client with a European

focus, which gets priority? That could lead to some very serious


There are more fundamental questions about day-to-day operations. If

Zenith has two masters, doesn’t that double the ’security risk’ of

client confidentiality? If soon-to-be-ex-Cordiant agencies are worried

about this, what do Zenith’s direct clients think?

The longer these questions hang in the air, the greater the excuse for

power politics. Should Bates and Saatchis bosses beef up media planning

to keep as much control as possible over the media process? The creative

agencies have always acted as media principals, using Zenith as a buying

subcontractor. But they were all equals within the sight of Cordiant


The rules are bound to change - and that could have serious implications

for the credibility of Zenith’s planning function.

Bates and Saatchis managers have expressed reservations about Zenith’s

track record in planning, especially at account management level. These

are likely to be confirmed after last week’s resignation of Zenith’s

managing director, Andy Tilley. He was the public face of Zenith’s

commitment to planning and the guarantor of its excellence.

Steering a course for Zenith will take strong diplomacy. No-one is

suggesting the knives are out for Perriss - but he could be in for his

roughest ride yet. Perriss is a consumate politician, but his power base

has been within Cordiant - and in the past he has stood on one or two

toes at Bates and Saatchis.

Perriss is as likely as anyone to have the answers to even the toughest

questions about Zenith. An expectant audience awaits - not least within

the extended but increasingly insecure Cordiant.