Clients cross floor to steer agencies

Media owners are hiring senior client staff, but should they take the risk of a boss without detailed operational knowledge? asks Amanda Wilkinson

Cross-disciplinary experience, with time spent on the client side and as a media owner, is becoming an indispensable requirement for media agencies.

The latest example of this cross-pollination trend is Andrew McLean, who is leaving his post as executive director of advertising and media at The Walt Disney Company Europe to return to the media agency world (MW October 14) as executive vice-president and client services director at Young & Rubicam’s global media specialist company The Media Edge.

Based in New York, McLean, who spent over ten years at DMB&B’s MediaVest and Lintas before joining Disney, will develop media marketing solutions to meet client needs around the world.

Paul Woolmington, president of The Media Edge, says: “Andrew’s international experience, both on the client and agency side, makes him the perfect candidate for us. As we push to develop unique multi-channel solutions for our global clients, having people such as Andrew is our key to success.”

The announcement of McLean’s appointment comes only a week after David Wheldon, a stranger to media agency life, joined Tempus subsidiary CIA Medianetwork UK as its chief executive.

Prior to his last job as president of BBDO Europe, Wheldon worked for four years as vice-president of the Coca-Cola Company and worldwide head of advertising, later becoming chief marketing officer Europe. Before that, he was managing director of advertising agency Lowe Howard-Spink. He admits: “My background is broad with communications experience at a significantly high management level of client and agencies. In general terms, I know about media. I don’t know the nitty gritty but I have people here that do.”

Wheldon’s experience on the client side at Coca-Cola taught him that an ad was the last piece of the marketing jigsaw puzzle to be put in place after strategy, objectives and segmentation of media had been discussed.

Senior executives at Tempus say that they were specifically looking to recruit someone with broad skills, who was able to assess client strategy and new communications opportunities for the media agency.

But industry insiders claim that the troubled agency was forced to recruit from outside media agencies because of its recent poor track record.

However, Tempus chief executive David Reich says: “We wanted someone who spoke the language of marketing. Media agencies are graduating towards a higher relationship with clients and we felt that we needed a management that could talk their language.”

New PHD managing partner Jonathan Durden agrees that media agencies are moving towards more client involvement in strategy, choosing types of communications and media budget decisions at an earlier stage.

New PHD has accordingly established a creative communications department staffed by account planners from creative and communications agencies and media strategists from the BBC.

With the development of the Internet and digital TV, the days of media agencies being pure buying houses are numbered, claims Durden, who adds: “We aren’t just about placing messages, we are about branding behaviour.”

Opinion is divided about whether individuals who have come from the client side to a media agency are able to play a key role in the running of the business.

Reich believes they can and quotes the example of Daryl Simms, who left his job as Procter & Gamble’s US media chief to become chief executive of Omnicom Media and president of Optimum Media Direction.

Industry insiders also point to Crispin Davis, chief executive of Reed Elsevier. He worked at P&G and United Distillers before going on to build up the global network of Carat and its associated communications and research companies as chief executive of holding company Aegis.

But Christine Walker, managing partner at Walker Media, says: “There’s no proven long-term example of people coming in from the client side and making a success of the day-to-day running of a media agency.”

She maintains Davis’ role was that of businessman running a public limited company, developing strategy and making acquisitions.

Mediapolis managing director Mark Mendoza agrees, saying it depends on the size of the operation and the specific responsibilities of the job.

He says: “It’s a question of different sizes of operation. If it’s a 300- to 400-person business, you are not going to get many detailed operational questions from clients.”

But if it’s a smaller business, then a grasp of the clients’ media needs and the execution of those needs is essential.

Mendoza says: “Clients expect the person running the media agency to have that higher knowledge. If they don’t, they should be kept out of detailed meetings until they do.”

After the loss of major accounts, Carat Manchester recently parted company with its managing director of 15 months, Terry Cole, who had a background in sales and marketing for companies such as Unilever, Wilkinson Sword and Wella.

Refusing to comment on the reasons for the split, Ray Kelly, chief executive of Carat Northern Europe, says: “It so happened that he wasn’t the solution for that particular business.”

Walker says: “It’s difficult for people coming in from the client side. Even if you are involved in media, you have no experience of the business’ trading side with media owners and therefore you can’t close the loop.”

The flow of talent from media agencies to client side has been more successful, she says. She cites the career moves of SmithKline Beecham’s advertising director for consumer healthcare UK John Blakemore, who used to be a media buying director at Ogilvy & Mather; Unilever’s worldwide head of media Alan Rutherford, who joined from O&M; and Adidas’ worldwide media director Jason Dawes, who left Zenith.

Agency staff may fit into a client environment successfully because of the mindset involved. Clients expect a service and media agencies are used to supplying one.

As the media becomes more fragmented, media agencies may have to change the skills base of their employees and senior management. Those who have worked on both the client and agency side are well placed to benefit.


    Leave a comment