Merger beckons for The Network

Michael Quilty has been brought in to The Network to unify its media operation across Europe, but how does his appointment fit in with Martin Sorrell’s plans to merge the WPP media agencies? Michele Simpson reports

Ogilvy & Mather’s decision to bring Michael Quilty, Coca-Cola’s international media director, back to the UK to be European chief executive of The Network (MW July 26) is designed to put the media arm in a prime position, to emerge as the winner in any future WPP media merger.

Quilty’s principal brief from September will be to unify The Network’s media operation across Europe, according to UK managing director Mandy Pooler.

However, there is still a question mark over how his appointment fits into the WPP framework and chief executive Martin Sorrell’s stated aim to combine the media billings of J Walter Thompson and O&M.

Sorrell has talked of merging the two separate WPP units and last year approached Zenith chief executive Christine Walker as a potential head of the global operation.

Quilty, still in Atlanta, would not comment on Sorrell’s plans for the WPP media agencies. “I’m joining a new company and I want to go in with an open mind,” he says.

However, Quilty does say part of his job will be to work with Ron de Pear, chairman of JWT’s global media group and executive European media director, to look at the possible benefits from “combining resources”.

Quilty brings to The Network considerable experience from agency work and a brief period at Coca-Cola.

He started as a media planner and buyer at Saatchi & Saatchi in London before moving to Young & Rubicam as media group manager in 1986.

In 1991, Quilty became Y&R’s European planning director for Colgate-Palmolive and transferred two years later to Frankfurt as media director.

Last September, he joined Coca-Cola as international media director in charge of more than $1.3bn (855m) of worldwide media for the drinks company.

He resigned last month, unhappy with the direction the company was taking. “The job I was doing at Coke was very much a core media job within a client structure. But there have been changes of late at Coke that structurally had some far-reaching implications for my job,” says Quilty.

Although he would not expand on what is happening at Coke’s headquarters in Atlanta, Quilty says he was approached by O&M and “others” so he decided to return to the UK.

He describes his role at The Network as simply “providing leadership”. Pooler says he will build on the infrastructure already in place at The Network, to turn it into a “first-class” media operation in every European market.

An insider close to both JWT and O&M says Sorrell has headhunted Quilty with a bigger role in mind.

“There is potential for a bigger role at The Network, he is a very expensive guy – 250,000-plus,” he says.

Sources say Quilty’s appointment is part of moves to strengthen The Network as a media operation. However, the agency is also seeking to differentiate itself from JWT, as Sorrell looks at ways to merge the pair on a market-by-market basis, according to one buyer.

“It is unlikely that Sorrell is going to make a big splash issuing a statement saying that from a certain date the media operations are being merged,” says Quilty.

“What I think is likely to happen is an ad hoc solution where changes are made country by country – it’s already happening to some extent in Taiwan,” he adds.

The Network has also made inroads into the South Pacific market – launching The Network, The Ogilvy Media Company in Hong Kong this month. And is expected to roll out in South America before the end of this year.

JWT has also made it clear that it is looking at its role as a traditional full-service agency media department.

JWT Europe’s president and chief executive Miles Colebrook, the worldwide Executive Group member responsible for JWT’s media operations, says: “We are conducting and monitoring radical re-engineering experiments in a number of our offices around the world, which may well fundamentally change the way we work with our clients in the future. It is is much too early to say how this will eventually affect the role of the traditional media department,” he adds.

Quilty says he and Sorrell will look at the benefits that can be gained by pooling resources in certain markets. “But it’s not just a question of simplicity – it’s also about what the benefits are for our clients,” he says.

Quilty believes the joint venture between JWT and O&M in Europe, The Media Partnership, is a success and may be a model for the future.

While Quilty’s part in that future is assured, he joins the UK media industry after a three-year absence, in a market that is witnessing rapid change.”I think the biggest changes have been with the media owners. But the UK is a very sophisticated market – it is brawn and brains in the UK rather than simply revenue and volume,” he says.

But volume is still a sufficiently important issue – as media agency mergers such as that between Pattison Horswell Durden and Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO show. Therefore, The Network is making appointments such as Quilty’s and expanding its operations around the globe so that when its merger turn comes, it comes out on top.

See Alan Mitchell, page 24

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