John Billett

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John Billett may have been in advertising since the Marlboro Man was a young buck, but he continues to be at the vanguard of what concerns marketers most: measurement. Since accountability has leaped up the list, he's brought one of the U.K.'s leading independent media consultancies and auditors to the U.S.

In just under a year, his Media Performance Monitor America has bested established competitors and snared top-drawer clients with billion-dollar budgets. A unit of Billetts, the name it operates under in the U.K. and Europe, MPMA's domestic clients include Nissan North America, Ford Motor Co., Unilever, KFC Corp. and Sony Corp.

A Unilever trainee when he started in the business in 1966, Mr. Billett was named the U.K.'s first media director under 30 (at Campbell-Ewald) and went on to launch Billetts, an independent media buying company. He folded his company into Chris Ingram's CIA and saw it go public in 1989 as CEO in Europe. While part of CIA, he realized the coming importance of accountability. In 1995 he bought the Billetts name back and opened the current operation above a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in London's SoHo.

Today, it employs 119 people across Europe, and has a blue-chip roster that covers 40% of the U.K.'s top 500 advertisers and 20% of Europe's top 100 advertisers. It has a partner for Japan and Australia, and opened an office in the U.S. last October. He has designs on China, and the U.S.Hispanic market.

Mr. Billett says the company has no vested interest in how much money a marketer spends on advertising. "I do care how passionately that they know how it [works]. You can't [offer that advice] properly if you make commercials or buy space or design the coupon promotions or are designing the Internet concept," he says.

Mr. Billett, who made several million dollars when CIA went public, says he will continue to entertain offers to sell Billetts but only if it can maintain objectivity. A 60-year-old father of three adult children, Mr. Billett lives in London but travels extensively. He lived in New York for six months when MPMA was launching in suburban Tarrytown, N.Y. The jaunt allowed the former professional singer to indulge his passion, with Sundays in the city spent listening to the choir at St. Thomas Church of England and Mondays listening to jazz in Greenwich Village.

Media auditing has been a fixture in the U.K. and Europe for almost two decades, and it's expected to grow as more marketers involve procurement agents in marketing. In addition to benchmarking whether a particular marketer gets a good deal on media, MPMA evaluates strategy, return on investment, where commercials are positioned in pods and how a marketer should spend its money. While many media agencies say they offer the same evaluation as MPMA for no additional cost, the company continues to win business.

When Nissan North America chose MPMA to improve the efficiency and productivity of its estimated $966 million in measured media, Mr. Billett was in on the pitch.

"His wealth of information came through," says John Rinek, media director for Nissan and Infiniti. "His experience, his dynamics, as an individual were all there."

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