Zenith Media Realignment Puts Clients In The Center

Ad agencies for years have been talking about “breaking down silos,” which for media shops means forcing specialists in different disciplines to work more closely together to craft cohesive, integrated strategies for their clients. One agency—Publicis Groupe’s Zenith Media—is trying to achieve this by going the oft-discussed route of putting clients in the center: the shop has eliminated its media buying, planning and research departments, and has instead restructured its teams either around large individual clients or clusters of smaller ones.

The groups, dubbed “biospheres,” contain planners, buyers and researchers to service dedicated accounts. Larger clients such as Verizon, HP and Nestlé have their own groups, while smaller clients like Richemont, Boston Beer and Jim Beam Brands share biospheres based on commonalities such as target audience, shared sector (retail for example) or even corporate culture. The restructuring, which took effect in January, resulted in the creation of about a dozen groups.

A number of media agencies have taken different approaches to so-called “silo busting” in the name of serving clients better. Client teams are not uncommon, but they usually focus more on planning and strategy while leaving buying and research departments intact. Some on the creative side have developed teams to focus on individual clients as well: WPP has formed Team Ford in Detroit, and Grey from 2000 to 2006 established “villages” that served accounts by category.

Some media shops, including Initiative, Starcom and PHD, over the past year have tried to forge closer links among different buying disciplines by installing one executive to oversee most or all of the buying units. Zenith, however, is believed to be the first U.S. shop to actually eliminate those departments.

Zenith USA president Wendy Marquardt, the architect of the reorganization, noted that the traditional media agency structure, in which shops were organized into separate departments based on media discipline and buyers for a particular medium and tended to deal exclusively with their sales counterparts in that field, are no longer adequate given the changing media landscape.

“We don’t live in a linear world anymore,” she said. “We live in digital world, and it’s a sloppy, messy world,” where different media “overlap and intersect with each other,” as clients increasingly demand integrated strategies with lots of “cross-pollination” among different disciplines.

“We’ve all worked in silos for so long, all trying to hone our individual craft skills that we get a myopic view of the world,” continued Marquardt. “If you’re going to serve clients in a holistic and integrated fashion, how do you deliver on that kind of promise?

“The idea was to create an organic interdependent community of skilled professionals working on behalf of a client or collection of clients,” she said.

Marquardt stressed that there is still a key role for senior execs such as Peggy Green, who has run the national broadcast department, top magazine executive Steven Bloom and Damon Peirson, head of out-of-home media, even though their departments have been disbanded. Green, for example, will have at least one client group reporting to her and will also continue to be the lead negotiator for the agency during the upfront TV marketplace, in consultation with the team leaders.

Beyond that, said Marquardt, the planning and buying and research specialists within the client teams will continue to have a “dotted line” reporting function into their former department heads. And the latter are also charged with making sure that specialists in their disciplines are kept up to date on the latest trends and developments in those fields and can also be called in as troubleshooters on any account where a client needs help.

Tim Jones, CEO, ZenithOptimedia North America, described the reorganization as “very external looking rather than internal looking; very client focused versus marketplace focused.” He said the realignment contributed to winning the $750 million Fox review in January. “It wasn’t the cause, but it helped,” he said. Jones also said he believes specialists will learn more about media outside their field of expertise under the new arrangement, which is critical. “It’s really important in today’s world that people have a broader understanding of various media types as client strategies become more fully integrated,” he said.

It was Verizon, Zenith’s biggest client, that sparked the agency’s interest in implementing the reorganization. In fact, Verizon approached its media shop two years ago with a proposal to create a team-focused group at Zenith dedicated solely to its business, which evolved into the prototype biosphere.

John Harrobin, vp, advertising and digital media, Verizon, said that it was not out of dissatisfaction with Zenith’s offering that the client suggested the changes, but more a matter of a demanding customer always looking for improvements. “For the client, it’s easy to say to the agency, work better, harder, faster, and I say that often,” said Harrobin. “But we also need to take accountability and provide clear direction about what needs to be done.”

Verizon created a “demand team,” which coordinates activities internally and externally for all of its agency and marketing service providers. “It’s all designed to make sure we’re not just throwing work over the wall from planning to buying or retail merchandising to TV creative and vice versa,” he said. “I’m a massive fan of the coordinated team approach.”

Scott Berg, worldwide media director at HP, said Zenith’s reorganization makes sense given the pace of change. “Agencies are now starting to realize that the model needs to change inside of the agency in order to meet the demanding challenges we have today,” he said. “They include faster turnaround times, new opportunities within the media landscape and the need for integration” among various marketing disciplines, he said.

For clients, Berg added, “the demand for team-oriented marketing/media organizations are higher now than ever.”