Columbus Media was not by any means the first group of its kind, but the core investment by a few key agencies helps to provide structure to a grouping that might otherwise feel very loosely affiliated.
Mr. Koenigsberg recently returned from the collective's second global summit and talked to Advertising Age about how the group is doing and where it plans to go next.
MediaWorks: Remind us of the original reasons why Columbus Media was formed.
Bill Koenigsberg: From a defensive standpoint, it was about being able to provide our clients with resources outside our home country so that as they expanded, we were able to expand with them as well. On a new-business front, there was a need to be able to go outside our home market. The second opportunity was a void in the marketplace for a new global network that could pitch business on a larger scale against the existing networks that are out there.
MediaWorks: What has Columbus Media managed to accomplish since the ink dried on the legal documents last November?
Mr. Koenigsberg: We consider ourselves a $5 billion start-up. We launched this with 14 countries and we are now up to 20, covering 37 markets. From an administrative standpoint, we have a shared extranet that has been developed so that a whole bunch of internal information can be garnered from the partners and shared: from research to case studies to new-business wins to awards to everything and anything you want to know about the partners for the partners.
We have a signed, very detailed members' agreement in place that deals with working practices, transparency and how our partners are supposed to operate as one. We have recently launched a global research project on media consumption and relevance which will be finished in the next couple of months and issued. We have been doing a lot of things internally to set up a strong structure.
From a business standpoint, there are about 20 pieces of shared business now within the network. ... The largest piece of that is in six or seven markets. There's nothing yet that spans the entire network. We have been out and talked to 40 different potential advertisers for the network over the last several months, telling our story. There is also a Columbus digital network, which also has business that is being shared. That shared business and multimarket integration is a good way to start out. We've had some success stories, but I do believe in the next six months we will have a significant piece of business for the network based on the exploratory meeting that we've had. Coming off this current summit, we expect to be in front of 50 to 60 additional prospects within the next six weeks because there's a full-court press to do that more and more and it was a big emphasis on the summit.
MediaWorks: What does it take to become a member of the network and what does it mean to them?
Mr. Koenigsberg: There is an advanced team that goes into the expanding markets and does due diligence on the leading independents; in some countries there are several choices and in some countries there aren't. They then select [agencies] based on certain criteria: size, financial information, capability, references from media and clients -- it's almost like doing a new-business pitch. They present to the whole group and then there is a vote. By the time they get in front of the group, it's pretty much a formality. When they get that far, they've met certain criteria and they are being brought in for a blessing, but it's not an absolute.
Two new members were presented to join [at our summit this year]: Ukraine and Poland. They presented their credentials and their capabilities to the group. They were both voted into the group.
We've got five countries which have an equity interest and the rest are paying fees into the center. For those fees they get a whole bunch of services back: help with interactive, research services, new-business services, the extranet, propriety research help, shared learnings -- there's a lot of value that they are getting back from this. It is somewhat run as a co-op, except in a co-op you don't have actual owners.
MediaWorks: What are some of the biggest challenges the group faces?
Mr. Koenigsberg: The biggest challenge that we have is that all have day jobs running our current businesses. We have to spend more time and more focus if we want to move Columbus forward faster because we are not owned by an agency holding company that is going to put a piece of global business in the network. That's the disadvantage that we have.
There are also certain countries where the internet has low penetration or the ability to get primary research is limited. We're sharing the same problems that the networks have in many cases. We're at a disadvantage from a business model standpoint, although we've talked to Worldwide Partners, which is a global independent agency network of something like 300 agencies. We've chatted with them -- there's nothing to announce yet -- but if we were able to hook up with them that would be interesting.
MediaWorks: Now that you've got your structure in place, how do you plan to build your business?
Mr. Koenigsberg: We're starting to see the fruits of the CEOs' dedication. Simple things like having a Columbus sign in every office, everybody having the Columbus letter head and business cards -- simple things that put everyone on the same page. That's all the housekeeping that we've been working on for the past six months. Now all our focus is on business.
We've got a whole expansion list for Australia, mainland China; South America is still a challenge; India -- we've got some big gaps to fill and we are in the process of talking to people, but it is taking more time than we thought it would. As we grow in more countries, that will lead to more contacts and opportunities. It's just a matter of when, not if.
We are in the market right now to hire a very visible international ambassador who can bring on some heavy international connections -- just to provide more visibility around the globe. There's also a big push to provide for each of our partners locally. We believe if we can become stronger in all of our businesses locally, we can become stronger as a network. There's a whole checklist of tools we'd like for everyone: proprietary tools, interactive, research. We plan to be in three more markets by the end of October and five by the end of 2007.