Walker Media becomes Blue 449, with a mission to innovate

As Walker Media becomes Blue 449, its leaders explain why it will be more than just another media agency. By Arif Durrani.

Davis (l) and Georgiadis: collaboration and new ways of working will be key features of Blue 449
Davis (l) and Georgiadis: collaboration and new ways of working will be key features of Blue 449

Sitting in his Cleveland Street office in London, Phil Georgiadis is in reflective mood as he thinks back on the journey of the past 18 years.

From today, Walker Media, the agency founded by Georgiadis and Christine Walker in 1997, becomes the rather more nebulous Blue 449.

The new name refers to the colour wavelength between Walker Media’s former purple branding and the blue of ZenithOptimedia, and is as intriguing as it is symbolic.

The first wave of media agencies largely adopted the format of the ad agencies they split from and were named after their founders. As the sector matures, such reminders have all but disappeared – think Chris Ingram, Steve Booth, Nick Lockett, Charlie Makin, David Pattison, Nick Hurrell and Jonathan Durden (only Manning Gottlieb OMD survives).

Blue 449 continues this trend and Georgiadis, the UK chairman of Blue 449, says he has told Walker about the branding change and "she understands" her name will disappear as the business moves to its new iteration.

"Time moves on and it’s important to move with it," Georgiadis says. "The founding principles remain but it’s important the nature of the business progresses."

When the agency was acquired by Publicis Groupe at the end of 2013, the ambition was always to create a new network. Sébastien Danet, the president of ZenithOptimedia France and chairman of VivaKi France, will lead the roll-out of Blue 449 globally, with the aim of creating 17 city-hubs by the year end.

"This is not just another media agency network in the sense of being a carbon copy of an existing agency already in the group," Georgiadis insists.

"The world does not need another media agency network per se, but what it does need are organisations that behave differently to reflect the needs of clients and the dynamics of media markets. To change and be agile enough to create such a proposition today, it is easier for a ‘clean sheet of paper’ than it is for an existing network."

So we can expect Blue 449 to be digital by design, spanning the latest ad tech to the amplification of ideas and the use of real-time data. Blue 449’s UK chief executive, Simon Davis, says "true collaboration" will also be a key tenet of the business. The old way of working, where agencies claim to have all the answers internally and sell "everything in one building", is no longer an appropriate model, he adds.

"Innovation is happening everywhere," Davis says. "So we’re structuring ourselves in a way that enables us to offer our clients the best of the best to help their journey."

He insists it will result in a ramping up of everything the agency has done best in the past, but there will be some structural changes – with the creation of client teams overriding planning and buying silos, for example.

The agency will assemble a group of "like-minded" individuals and companies within the ZenithOptimedia group and beyond to create a "Blue Collective", and will style itself as "the open-source agency".

Existing clients could be forgiven for wondering if their standing will be affected by becoming part of the wider group, not least when it comes to some of those trading deals ZenithOptimedia is believed to be tied into. Its leaders, of course, deny there will be any negative implications.