Aegis Media's New CEO Is Ready for Media's Next Phase

Mainardo de Nardis Talks About Keeping Up With the 'Chameleon' Consumer

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Well known in the European media world, Mainardo de Nardis joined Aegis Group in August from WPP Group, where he was previously CEO of the holding company's media network, Mediaedge:cia.
Mainardo de Nardis
Mainardo de Nardis

Mr. de Nardis, who was raised in Italy, set his sights on an advertising career when he was only 8 years old. "My dad was a client of Young & Rubicam in Milan. It was a fascinating place, and it was my passion as a little boy." His formal training in the business began with an internship at McCann Erickson in Rome; after that, he took a full-time job at his father's former agency partner.

In 1987 he made his move into media, becoming deputy chairman and partner at independent MediaNetwork. In 1992 the company merged with CIA, which was founded and run by Chris Ingram. After WPP bought CIA in 2001, Mr. de Nardis stayed on to oversee the merging of CIA with WPP's media network, The Media Edge.

He talked to MediaWorks about his role at London-based Aegis Media in the newly created position of CEO, and what challenges and opportunities he anticipates for himself and the company.

MediaWorks: You joined Aegis Group in August last year after three-and-a-half years at Mediaedge:cia and eight years before that at Chris Ingram's media company, CIA. Why did you opt for Aegis?

Mainardo de Nardis: I effectively worked for the same company, under many different ownerships, for 19 years -- I saw it growing from a small agency in Italy to a major quoted global player. I felt entirely part of it, but times change, and after the merger of CIA with Media Edge, I stayed for four years to see through a successful integration. Then it was time to move on. Aegis had always been a formidable competitor, and we shared the same roots, both being part of the original "media independent" concept many years before. I have to confess that over the last few years I had started looking at Aegis with a bit of envy. I saw Aegis Media, together with its core brands -- Carat, Vizeum, Isobar and Posterscope -- as the agency of the future, or, at least as the only place where the agency of the future could be developed.

MediaWorks: Your job at Aegis is a new one. Why was it created? What are your long-term goals?

Mr. de Nardis: Aegis Media has been very successful without a worldwide CEO, with all the regions reporting directly to the [company] together with Synovate, the other core business owned by Aegis Group. At the same time, that growth had been massive: The business had almost doubled in size in five years. All this was achieved at a time of rapid industry change.

[Aegis Group CEO] Robert Lerwill asked me to join in order to take Aegis Media to the next phase. Our long-term goal is to move Aegis Media way ahead of the competition so that we can capitalize on the insight, planning and accountability that have long been at the core of the media world to create the marketing-communication agency of the future. I could not have hoped for a better brief in the entire world.

MediaWorks: Name three initiatives you are undertaking to meet those goals.

Mr. de Nardis: First, integration. We have a wide-ranging offer of marketing services. In some countries, our traditional offer of media planning and buying now represents less than 50% of our revenues. These include digital -- online media and search but also content and mobile; sports and entertainment marketing; modeling and data management; research and insight. Many of our clients want the extra value from integrated services -- from communications planning to implementation -- across all platforms.

Second, globalization. Offering the above consistently across geography, without boundaries, is key to developing our global clients.

Third, digitalization. This isn't just about adding some services to our established media-planning and -buying businesses; it's about reinventing a new digitally powered model with the consumer always at the center.

MediaWorks: What do you want people to be saying about Aegis Media in a year?

Mr. de Nardis: That we don't simply have the best brands in the industry with Carat, Vizeum, Posterscope and Isobar, but that we are the best at bringing those skills together into one seamless, integrated offer everywhere. We have the assets, the vision and the approach to be the agency of the future.

MediaWorks: What is the greatest challenge facing media agencies, including those you oversee?

Mr. de Nardis: The challenge is the pace of change we are seeing at the moment. I think this is also an enormous opportunity: Evolving is not an option, it's a must. I see two specific challenges. One is keeping up with the consumer, who is a chameleon who changes daily in his or her entertainment behavior and leisure habits. We can't wait until we have every last piece of supporting evidence in terms of data and research; the reason we are well remunerated is because we have the experience to see where the consumer is going. Our clients are asking us to be more daring. Second, as an industry we must remember that we need to hold clients' hands through a time of enormous turbulence and capitalize on the excitement of this new age.

MediaWorks: Is it true that years ago you introduced your former boss at WPP, Martin Sorrell, to Vincent Bollore, the French financier and chairman of Havas who owns 29% of Aegis Group? Tell me more. When was this, and how do you know him?

Mr. de Nardis: Nice story, but not actually true! I don't know Mr. Bollore. What is true is that we were looking to acquire a company in France and we did ask Martin to contact him. The two didn't know each other at that time.

MediaWorks: Are you happy in your new job?

Mr. de Nardis: Yes, I am extremely happy. It is a fascinating time to be in our industry with never-ending intellectual, practical and commercial problems to solve for our clients. Fortunately, we've got a very distinctive mix in Aegis Media, including a world-class digital operation that is the envy of the entire industry, and the right people and philosophy to approach our clients with.
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