Media Siblings Jostle In A Crowded Market

Mediaedge:cia’s victory in the $480 million Paramount Pictures review this month was both sweet and symbolic for the agency—and one it hopes will help set it apart in an increasingly crowded field.

Sweet because CEO Charles Courtier’s shop has participated in but not won many big media contest in the two years since WPP Group bought Tempus’ CIA and merged it with The Media Edge.

Symbolic because two of the three other finalists—Omnicom Group’s PHD and Publicis Groupe’s MediaVest, the incumbent—have been overshadowed by their siblings, at least in terms of winning business, but are working to develop stronger identities. (Mediaedge:cia is less than half the size of MindShare, which has an estimated $12 billion in U.S. business. PHD is about half the size of $9 billion OMD. MediaVest and Starcom each have about $7 billion in U.S. billings.)

MediaVest, led by U.S. CEO Laura Desmond, has been particularly successful, on its own or as part of Starcom MediaVest Group, winning or successfully defending about $3 billion in planning and buying business in the past year. PHD, under U.S. CEO Steve Grubbs, has brought in new leaders in Detroit, New York, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

Managing conflict is still a key factor in what these agencies pitch or pursue, of course. Still, the rise of Mediaedge:cia, MediaVest and PHD illustrates how holding-company brands interact with their siblings and compete against all the others—and how the top tier is changing. (Unlike its rivals, Interpublic Group’s two main brands, Universal McCann and Initiative, operate independently from each other, although both work with IPG negotiating unit Magna Global.)

“All I am is a brand manager,” said Renetta McCann, CEO of the Americas at Publicis’ SMG. “I don’t intend to operate them as a first or second network, certainly in the U.S.”

With a larger field, differentiation is more crucial. To have continued success, shops like Mediaedge:cia, PHD and MediaVest may have to depend on the image they develop in the minds of clients and prospects. But media shops continue to lag in that area. “Everybody talks about it. Nobody’s really come up with a differentiated position,” says one top media-agency executive.

“They need to differentiate themselves for competitive reasons,” said Ian Beavis, svp of marketing at Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America. But, he added, “other than their client list, I don’t see a real difference between [Mitsubishi shop] PHD and OMD.”

“It’s getting much better,” said Russel Wohlwerth, principal at Select Resources International in Santa Monica, Calif. “But a lot of clients still say to me that they’re the same, or at least they have the perception that they are.”

“I don’t think anybody’s done a very good job of differentiation,” said Grubbs. “It’s going to continue to change, and rapidly. You will see aagencies get to the heart of issues hanging out there like accountability and ROI, embedded content and new technology. That will become their points of difference.”