MPG gains Craze as Havas falls to Bolloré

Time may not be on the side of former Aegis UK boss Mark Craze, who is joining his cousin Marc Mendoza, chief of Media Planning Group (MPG), to run Havas’s media buying arm.

The news of their partnership broke last week, on the same day that Havas shareholders backed corporate raider Vincent Bolloré’s 11-month battle to secure four seats on the board of the marketing services group, against the wishes of chairman Alain de Pouzilhac.

Bolloré, who has just over a 20 per cent stake in Havas, is known for buying and breaking up companies, and many expect him to do the same at Havas, citing MPG as the most likely division to be sold off.

But following the shareholders’ meeting on Thursday, Bolloré insisted he was “not Darth Vader”, saying he was committed to Havas in the long term. As the loser, many expected de Pouzilhac – who opposed Bolloré’s attempt to sit on the board because he feared the corporate raider was mounting a secret takeover – to fall on his sword. But the chairman has pledged to stay on.

De Pouzilhac believes he has begun to turn around Havas, which also includes Euro RSCG, following the loss of the Intel account and some Volkswagen media business. It unveiled an organic growth of 1.4 per cent in the first quarter of 2005 – double the level achieved the previous year.

He has just given his backing to an investment plan for MPG UK, which includes the hiring of Craze who, along with Mendoza, will be a joint managing partner reporting to Fernando Rodes, global chief executive of MPG.

The agency is also looking to sign up more talent to secure the highest ratio of senior people working directly on client businesses in the industry.

Craze and Mendoza, who are also old school friends, have hatched a three-and-a-half-year growth strategy. To the outside world their new partnership may look strange, but the two believe the fact they know each other so well will stand them in better stead than two senior managers thrust together by circumstance. Craze’s main focus will be new business, using the client skills he developed building Carat into one of the top media agencies in the UK.

But he is realistic. “We are not going to be a £600m to £700m agency in three years, but we will be very dynamic and customer focused. We won’t be the biggest, but we want to be one of the best.”

MPG UK had billings of £82.95m for 2004, down from £136.96m the previous year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The one account the agency hopes will come its way is Peugeot and Citroën car manufacturer PSA, which is reviewing its media and planning accounts across Europe, including the £76m UK business held by OMD UK. The MPG network, which holds the PSA account in France and Spain, has boosted its buying power for the review by teaming up with WPP Group to form a joint venture, 2MV.

Head of WPP Sir Martin Sorrell has made it clear he would like to get his hands on MPG, but he may have to settle for arrangements of this type if Bolloré, who is known to get on with the WPP boss, stays true to his word.

But Marketing Services Intelligence editor Bob Willott says incumbent management will “feel threatened” by the recent strife and this is “never a good basis for performance”. If the group fails to deliver, Willott believes Bolloré will try to break it up to recoup his investment – and MPG would be “readily saleable”.

But Numis media analyst Lorna Tilbian says: “Bolloré is not going to create shareholder value by selling the jewel in the crown and keeping the dross.”

The pressure is now on Craze and Mendoza to prove their worth – and they may have very little time in which to do so.

Amanda Wilkinson

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