Carat reshuffles to cushion VW blow

As BBJ Media Services waits for news of whether it will retain its hold on the £44m Volkswagen UK media account, a senior management reshuffle has begun.

Jerry Buhlmann, BBJ’s managing director, co-founder and a player on the agency’s VW account, is to move within the Aegis group to sister company Carat International at the end of the year, as managing director of client services.

Aegis owns a network of Carat agencies located around the world, including BBJ in the UK, Carat and the international division, Carat International.

By the time Buhlmann’s replacement Trista Grant joins the group – as first reported in Marketing Week (June 17) – the future of the major VW account will have been decided.

Grant, who was formerly managing director of Universal McCann, London, is working in Australia as national media director for McCann-Erickson.

Although Buhlmann will remain chairman of BBJ, he will have little day-to-day involvement in the management of the media agency and its clients.

Carat’s grip on VW has already been loosened. Its hold on key European markets first came unstuck after it lost the £170m German account to MediaCom last November (MW November 12 1998).

After a pitch, it managed to retain the account in Spain and Italy. However, it awaits a decision on the account in France.

BBJ’s good relationship with Volkswagen UK was not enough to prevent a pitch against New PHD and MediaCom TMB in May. The German head office of VW and the UK management is still deciding where to place the account.

It remains to be seen whether Grant’s first task at BBJ will be to find new business of comparable size to the VW account.

She says: “BBJ is a well-respected, high quality agency, but with enormous opportunities for growth.”

Grant has the credentials to succeed. While managing director at Universal, she brought clients such as Sky TV and Esso to the agency. Since moving to Australia in 1997, Grant has won business worth Aus$110m (£45.3m), including Unilever’s centralised planning and buying account, Sony Group’s centralised TV account and MasterCard.

So what is the secret behind Grant’s business success? Ray Kelly, chairman of Carat Group UK, with whom she worked as a planner buyer at TMD London in 1988, says: “She creates extremely good relationships with clients.”

Industry insiders concur, remarking on her movie-star looks, appetite for work, and hard negotiating skills.

At Carat International, Buhlmann will look after the group’s multinational clients, such as Adidas, Reckitt & Colman, Walt Disney, Philips, UDV and Cable & Wireless. He will also help devise media strategies, which will then be implemented by other offices within the Carat network.

This relieves Carat International’s managing director, Brian Jacobs, of some of his current responsibilities. He will concentrate on his other roles – business development and the pan-regional media buying and planning department, which is to be rebranded global media.

Jacobs says: “Because we have done quite well and grown satisfactorily, we tend to have more internationally co-ordinated clients than a lot of other agencies. So we need someone like Jerry to look after the eight to ten co-ordinated clients.”

Jacobs will concentrate on winning extra business from existing and new clients and on managing the global media division, which specialises in buying and planning pan-regional media such as Eurosport, MTV and CNN. The new global media division is also looking at putting together packages for clients across different forms of media in a variety of markets, through tie-ups with News Corp One and Time Warner/Turner.

WestLB Panmure media analyst Lorna Tilbian says: “The changes appear to boost the management team. It’s a rearguard action to ensure that they keep their big accounts.”

According to one industry insider, the management reshuffle is to be applauded.

He says: “There are definitely some clients that want us to apply global thinking, as well as put our best people at their disposal.

“Advertising agencies already do that. But it takes time for media agencies to catch up. You have to have a worldwide client first, and not many media agencies have them.”

The growth of Carat International fits within the Aegis aim of building up a global network with agencies in the US, Australia, Canada, Latin America and Asia.

With a view to expansion, the group entered into merger talks with Zenith Media in 1997. These were later abandoned. Tilbian says: “I think Aegis is going to go it alone now, until one of the American giants, such as True North or Grey, decides it wants to become as big as Omnicom.”

Aegis has also recently started to expand outside the world of media services, after buying Market Facts, a US-based market research company earlier this year for £185m.

According to its preliminary results for last year, Aegis reported a pre-tax profit of £50.6m on a turnover of £4.1bn. This compares with pre-tax profits in 1997 of £44.4m on a turnover of £3.6bn. Aegis claims to have 12 per cent of the European planning and buying media market.

The management reshuffle indicates that a greater emphasis is being placed on relationships with existing clients and winning new business, to ensure that the unrest that happened with Volkswagen last year does not spread to other major clients.

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