Zenith shows it can plan with the best with O2 brief win

Risk-taking is not something that's been on the agenda recently. I haven't even been able to look at the William Hill website since the French nag First Gold faded in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, missing out on the top-three place it seemed destined to get, writes Ian Darby.

And with no bet placed, the Grand National was as exciting for me this year as the Boat Race. So now is the time to get a bit reckless.

Nothing so outrageous as proclaiming the coming of age of the small agency because BLM Media has won a £30m account. But I am, however, going to attempt to draw some sort of conclusions from a pitch result.

ZenithOptimedia's capture of the £33m consolidated O2 account interested me on a number of levels. Not so much that Zenith had won the TV buying business from The Allmond Partnership, but because of what the capture of the planning business from PHD might represent.

You could take the view that it has been a pretty rough few months for PHD. It lost Weetabix to the aforementioned TAP, it got unlucky when Wella moved its business because of its acquisition by Procter & Gamble and then there was the massive blow of the O2 business moving to Zenith.

This would have been unthinkable a few years ago -- after all, PHD was the brainy one, creative in all things media, while the big buying sheds such as Zenith lumbered behind. But what Zenith, and the likes of MediaCom before it, have proved is that they have caught up with PHD in offering a strong planning position.

PHD shouldn't despair, though. It might not be the force that it was once (because of greater competition copying its model as well as its founders moving on) but it has brought through a good new-generation management team, led by the likes of Morag Blazey, Mark Holden and Louise Jones, and I predict that PHD will bounce back from this loss.

The comments of Susie Moore, the head of brand and marketing communications at O2, indicated that the business was consolidated for "value and efficiency". This shouldn't go too much against Zenith though.

Along with many other observers, I had Michaelides & Bednash down for a nice little number on the communications planning of the O2 business, à la Naked Communications on the Orange account, leaving Zenith to handle the buying. But Zenith, with a planning team that is 82-strong, having grown since the managing director, Gerry Boyle, joined from M&B as the head of planning, was able to show enough fresh thinking to emerge on top.

And this is the biggest thing to come out of the O2 pitch. Top-three agencies have as much planning talent, if not more, than the communications planning specialists. They just need to be free to take risks.

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