Media Agency of the Year: MindShare

Getting Kathy Crawford to join MindShare was hardly a slam dunk. “I was going to leave my family and move 3,000 miles across the country on a gamble,” she says about the six-month courtship that brought her to New York last year as the agency’s president of local broadcast. “But Irwin and Marc convinced me because of who they are.”

Irwin Gotlieb and Marc Goldstein were equally enamored of Crawford. She had put in almost 25 years in Los Angeles at Interpublic Group’s Initiative Media and its predecessor, Western International Media, building up her bona fides to become arguably the most powerful – and certainly one of the most influential – local-broadcast executives in the country. Still, she says, “I wouldn’t have talked to them had it not been for the reputation of their agency. And then, when I did talk to them, I understood why the reputation was what it was.”

Goldstein, North America CEO at MindShare, and Gotlieb, CEO of Group M, the WPP Group entity that oversees MindShare and sibling Mediaedge:cia, are a long-running act so polished that they finish each other’s sentences without missing a beat. (They met in Benton & Bowles’ legendary media department two decades ago.) Yet they are only the top two names on a team of all-stars who, in Crawford’s words, “are clearly in the brain of the client. They’re very client-focused, really interested in the client’s return on investment, from the top all the way through the ranks.”

“We work very hard at delivering that promise,” says Goldstein, 58, the former head of GM MediaWorks whom Gotlieb lured to MindShare in 2001. Plus, Goldstein says, “I think people’s mind-set is that this is really a good place to work. People care about one another. There’s very much a collegial atmosphere.” And in 2003, the agency had “just a better understanding of who we are and what our goals and objectives are,” Goldstein says.

For clients, it’s equally simple. “These guys get it,” says Brad Simmons, vp of media services for Unilever North America, who singles out MindShare’s “desire to bring in people that are at the top of the food chain in their respective fields”.

It is quality as well as quantity that earns MindShare Adweek’s 2003 Media Agency of the Year honors. Not that its numbers are shabby – far from it. The agency has won $1 billion or more in billings worldwide for three years running, a good deal of it in the U.S. – a younger operation here than in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Last year, MindShare’s numbers were typically strong: Billings and revenue grew 17 percent to an estimated $10.9 billion and $415 million, respectively. And the network lost only $50 million in billings to client defections (AIG and Maglite) in the U.S.

The agency also made the most of its family ties in 2003, winning more than $100 million in billings from Boost Mobile, Yahoo!, the American Chemistry Council and others in concert with sibling WPP shops.

MindShare – a product of the merger of J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather’s media departments that launched in Europe, Asia and Latin America in 1997 and in North America in 2000 – had critical mass and blue-chip clients from the beginning. Its headline-grabbing new-business success, from the $800 million Unilever media consolidation in 2000 to last year’s $150 million Nextel win, has hardly been a surprise. “I think I’m going to be truthful when I say that in most cases, I haven’t cold-called a client since I’ve been here,” says Gotlieb, 54. “There are a handful of shops like ours where we have a sufficient profile that we make every list. Because the field has gotten so small, if you’re average, you’re winning one out of every five pitches. And we’re doing several times better than that.”

Even competitors say MindShare lives up to its major-league status. Because it began with both planning and buying, MindShare suffered fewer tug-of-wars of the kind that slowed the development of other major media-agency networks (though it did see its share of infighting between the JWT and Ogilvy camps). And because it was born as the second-largest network in the market behind Initiative, MindShare “has had more given to them,” notes one competitor. “But they’ve done an effective job managing that. … They’re also doing very innovative things with programming, which is the great strength of Irwin and Marc.”

That was much in evidence in 2003, as MindShare grabbed the pole position in the rapidly growing branded-entertainment space. In October, it hired former CBS Entertainment president Peter Tortorici, 54, as director of programming. The L.A.-based Hollywood player was a key figure in MindShare’s precedent-setting December deal to develop scripted programming with ABC – an ambitious initiative that gives preferential treatment to MindShare clients such as Sears and Unilever in shows developed under the agreement.

MindShare also passed the 50 percent mark in direct client business in 2003 when it added Nextel, a media-only account, even after JWT was cut from the creative review. It also kept the $20 million Cotton Inc. media business even as sister shop Ogilvy lost the creative account it had handled for decades.

Last year was “pivotal” in MindShare’s evolution, says Gotlieb. “In 2000, the year we were formed in the U.S., we didn’t have a hard P&L year,” he says. “Our first full year, 2001, was very difficult, because we lost Pfizer” – in a $600 million shootout with Carat, held after Pfizer acquired MindShare client Warner-Lambert. In 2002, the shop won the $600 million Gillette business, and as 2003 began, “the revenues were just starting to kick in,” Gotlieb says. “So 2003 was a year where we could concentrate on strategic objectives as opposed to just making numbers.”

The network restructured its uppermost ranks last year, as Gotlieb moved out of day-to-day operations, replaced as worldwide CEO by London-based COO Dominic Proctor (who had been Martin Sorrell’s very first MindShare hire). Crawford, 63, arrived in June to take over for the departed Jean Pool. And another Initiative alumnus, Steve Simpson, came aboard in September, succeeding David Meers as research director of the Advanced Techniques Group, MindShare’s econometric modeling division. The latter hire was particularly crucial, as analytics is a branding tool for MindShare and an area singled out by Gotlieb and Goldstein as key to the agency’s unique strengths.

Rounding out the top tier is Ray Simko, 55, president of strategic planning, who has been with MindShare since its formation.

While Gotlieb has stepped back, his spirit remains at the core of the place. “I see him in action within the agency, and he has a mischievous streak in him,” says Unilever’s Simmons. “He’ll sit in meetings, and if it’s not moving fast enough for him, he has to keep himself energized or entertained. For a group that works as hard as our group does, to know there are going to be light moments like that keeps it real for everybody.”

When Gotlieb arrived from TeleVest to create MindShare in 1999, one of his first tasks was choosing a corporate color. He decided on purple – bringing together JWT’s blue and Ogilvy’s red. It took a few years for MindShare to earn the color by truly becoming its own agency – four years, to be exact. And challenges remain.

At the end of 2003, MindShare came up short in the $300 million Coca-Cola media consolidation. And as the year wound down, the network also found itself in the uncharacteristic position of having to defend a longtime client when American Express put its $375 million global media account into review.

Still, the shop sees 2003 as a springboard. “We matured in 2003,” says Proctor, 47. “In the U.S., there’s a real opportunity for one or maybe two agencies to break from the pack and really become distinctive. The opportunity is there to create a very distinctive service-company brand based on the core MindShare culture of collaboration, accountability and creativity.” K

A Word From the Client

Brad Simmons is a charter member of the vanguard of change in media. The vp of media services at Unilever was one of the architects of the Family Friendly Programming Forum, the national advertiser branded-entertainment initiative. He pioneered media-neutral strategic planning with Unilever’s Communication Channel Planning. And he’s known MindShare from the agency’s birth, having awarded the shop his $800 million account after a blockbuster yearlong review in 2000.

Why were you so confident about MindShare so early on?

We felt they had a superior strategic planning group, because the Ogilvy & Mather and JWT media departments were part of [the Unilever roster]. So they had a significant share of the planning assignments, and the brands had rated their performance very high. So we gave them an edge in media strategy. We felt it was kind of a draw from the buying standpoint, because we were not unhappy with Botway and Initiative, our buying incumbents. … Irwin [Gotlieb’s] skilled leadership was really the adhesive that those two agencies needed to truly put together a top-notch consolidated media shop.

How has that played out in specific instances?

In a couple of back-to-back difficult marketplaces, this team sat down with the planners and quickly put together some options and found the better deals. I couldn’t ask for more than that of them. Well, I could, and do, and that’s where Irwin and Marc [Goldstein] come in. We recently announced a pretty innovative deal with ABC. These guys have the contacts in Hollywood and know we need to minimize risk … and they don’t go after headlines. … When we did our integrated deal with AOL Time Warner, it wasn’t about “MindShare lands a groundbreaking deal,” it was something we did relatively quietly. It was really about us and our business, what we were doing, and that’s much appreciated. You see other agency groups, when you read some of the headlines, you really wonder who it’s benefiting most, them or the client.

STATISTICS

BILLINGS
Up 17 percent to $10.9 billion (est.)

REVENUE
Up 17 percent to $415 million (est.)

WIN/LOSS PITCH RATIO
5 out of 10

ACCOUNTS WON/MEDIA BUDGET*
Burger King /$350 million

Nextel/$150 million

DuPont/$70 million

American Chemistry/$50 million

Boost Mobile/$50 million

Yahoo!/$40 million

ACCOUNTS LOST/MEDIA BUDGET
AIG/$50 million

Maglite/$4 million

HIGHLIGHTS
Added $1 billion in global billings for third year in a row; inked landmark content-development deal with ABC for clients such as Sears and Unilever; wooed trio of top execs: former CBS Entertainment president Peter Tortorici named director of programming, Initiative Media’s Kathy Crawford named president of local broadcast and Steve Simpson named research director of Advanced Techniques Group.

*Does not include billings added from existing clients. Only largest accounts included. Won without a review. Sources: Adweek, agency reports, Nielsen Monitor-Plus and TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.