When billings size isn’t everything

Britain’s biggest media buyer would like to emphasise all the other things it is good at.

SBHD: Britain’s biggest media buyer would like to emphasise all the other things it is good at.

Ma Zenith has had a makeover. The offices have been tarted up, the logo has been zapped and a credentials presentation created to highlight the company’s non-buying resources. Strategic planning, research, client training, direct response, media forecasting and its world-wide network have been pushed to the fore.

With half an eye on the recent unwanted changes at Charlotte Street, Zenith Media emphasises that the new brand identity has been 18 months in the planning. Chief executive Christine Walker calls it not so much a repositioning as a “brand enhancement”.

“We haven’t changed our emphasis, we’ve added to it,” Zenith deputy managing director and strategic planning director Andy Tilley says. “We’re looking to be a full-service media brand.”

Zenith is not alone. Optimedia has rejigged its credentials presentation in recent months to put the emphasis on the company’s “creative planning and buying” case histories. More and more buying agencies are accepting sound buying as a given and concentrating on other strengths to differentiate themselves from the mob.

Such initiatives have been tried before. Zenith changed its name from Zenith Media Buying Services to Zenith Media in 1991 when Tilley, one of the most respected media planners in the industry, was brought in from DFSD Bozell.

Carat Research and its well-promoted branded research was meant to dispel the “gorillas with calculators” image of the company’s buying strengths. CIA has done a similar thing with its MediaLab. Yet TMD Carat’s hard-buying reputation persists because people don’t like to have their perceptions challenged.

There are a number of arguments about why media buying agencies like to add strings to their bows. One is that as clients pay more attention to media they are becoming more demanding and want not just cost-effective media buying but well-rounded media solutions.

The impetus may also come from the fragmenting media landscape. The relationship between consumers and the media is becoming more complex and there are many new ways to get your media buying wrong.

There is a more cynical argument: “Agencies are often branding resources that they already possessed in order to add a value to their brand that can then be charged for,” one marketing director says. “I suppose it is seen as a way of clawing back some of the margins they lost during the recession.”

It would be naive to believe that agencies and independents could get away with such an approach without their clients catching on. After all, it is the way brand advertisers have always increased their margins.

Zenith’s move carries a message about the direction the market is moving in. If you have the largest billings in the market by a factor of about two and a half it may seem sensible to emphasise the clout you carry in buying negotiations, rather than the other resources any other agency could lay claim to. The fact that the company has chosen this seemingly rockier path proves buying is no longer enough.

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