Ad Age Global Media Agency of the Year: Mediaedge:cia

With a Diversification Effort Focused on Retail and Digital, the Group M Agency Hits Its Stride

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Coca-Cola Co. wanted to double Coke Light sales in Singapore, where locals avoid diet drinks, believing they are only
Mediaedge:cia team (left to right): Charles Courtier, global CEO; Andrew McLean, president-global clients and business development; Alastair Aird, global COO; Michael Jones, CEO Latin America; and Melanie Varley, CEO Europe.
Mediaedge:cia team (left to right): Charles Courtier, global CEO; Andrew McLean, president-global clients and business development; Alastair Aird, global COO; Michael Jones, CEO Latin America; and Melanie Varley, CEO Europe. Credit: Caroline Irby
for fat people. It's the kind of challenge Mediaedge:cia thrives on.

Soaring sales
The solution was a speed-dating TV game show called "A Light Affair." The concept tapped into a passion for light-hearted romance and dating, incorporated the brand's new "Life Light" tagline, and even added an on-pack promotion to help consumers win dates with the TV show participants. Coke Light's Singaporean sales soared by 26% in four months, and the effort won Mediaedge:cia's internal, global best-ideas contest in 2006.

Often overshadowed by its bigger sibling MindShare, the WPP Group network grew billings by 14% in 2006, and big accounts rolled in, many of them due to strong relationships with existing clients. After winning Paramount Pictures in a review in 2005, Mediaedge:cia picked up the $270 million DreamWorks SKG business in the U.S. last year without a pitch after Paramount acquired the studio. And the network's global Campbell Soup Co. account now totals $400 million, after adding international assignments last year to existing U.S. business.

Aggressive diversification
Marketers praise Mediaedge:cia's insights and applaud its aggressive diversification into areas they care most about, like retail and digital.

More than 30% of its business around the world comes from such diversified services, and that growth will continue, says Charles Courtier, New York-based executive chairman-global and CEO-North America, who oversees both global and U.S. operations.

"They've diversified their capabilities, buying interesting companies to really broaden what they're offering," says Alice Nolan, VP-media at Cadbury Schweppes. "They're still in the process of pulling it all together, but when they've got it all together, the impact will be huge."

She singled out the network's investments in interactive, especially the ability to help Cadbury Schweppes with online-community media, and retail, where Mediaedge:cia last year acquired Retail Media Link, the first comprehensive database of in-store promotional options. Ms. Nolan says the software she saw last year was unique in its ability to pinpoint opportunities for national in-store messages.

In-store media
"The capability is there to really quantify in-store effort in the way you traditionally quantified media," she says.

With Retail Media Link, Mediaedge:cia also got its founder David Sommer, a man who grew up working in grocery stores and has boundless enthusiasm for combining the proprietary tool he created with developing ideas for marketers and selling them to retailers. Now management partner of year-old MEC Retail, he is also working on the April launch of MEC Retail in Europe.

"The fact they've got a group focused on that is extremely unique," Ms. Nolan says. "A lot of agencies still consider the in-store piece not part of traditional awareness building. I applaud Charles Courtier for realizing that's the next big landscape and opportunity."

As in all the other media networks, digital is the fastest-growing area. The MEC Interaction division, with more than 350 staff involved in direct, digital, search, gaming, mobile, viral and community marketing, is growing by more than 30% a year, the company says.

MEC Entertainment
Other offerings include MEC Entertainment, which Mediaedge:cia started last year after working with GroupM Entertainment.

"When the revenue starts coming in, you can build [a business] quite quickly," Mr. Courtier says. "GroupM was instrumental in getting started."

Mediaedge:cia benefits from being part of WPP's umbrella GroupM, which manages the holding company's media networks Maxus, MediaCom, Mediaedge:cia and MindShare.

"Where it makes sense, we share or develop things together," Mr. Courtier says, referring to the advantages gained from using GroupM's clout or sharing resources such as backroom operations among agencies.

Direct client contact
However, Alastair Aird, London-based chief operating officer-global, says direct client contact is better handled at the individual agency level. "Where it's client-focused, that's the domain of the agency," he says.

Mediaedge:cia was the outcome of the merger between Young & Rubicam's former media department, which was spun off as the Media Edge under the direction of Mr. Courtier, and independent Tempus Group, the parent company of CIA Media-network, acquired by WPP in 2001.

Mr. Courtier and CIA's Mainardo de Nardis forged the new Mediaedge:cia network as chairman and CEO, respectively, until Mr. de Nardis left in 2005 and later became CEO of Aegis Media.

The departure of Mr. de Nardis, and the continued growth of GroupM, precipitated major management changes last year. The role of London-based chief operating officer was created, and filled by Mr. Aird, a former Leo Burnett exec now working at his first media agency.

Executive promotions
In a series of promotions, two executives with client-focused European roles, Melanie Varley and Michael Jones, were named CEOs of Europe and Latin America, respectively. A few leaders are shared with GroupM; one of them, Rob Norman, heads GroupM Interaction but is still heavily involved in MEC Interaction.

After underperforming in major markets such as the U.K. and China, the network in 2006 finally cracked the top 10 in the U.K. In China, billings grew by 48% over 2005 to $600 million after winning business from Colgate-Palmolive Co., Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., Henkel, Ikea, Toys "R" Us and Star Alliance.

Mediaedge:cia's 14% growth rate in 2006 made the network the second-fastest growing after Starcom MediaVest Group, according to estimates by RECMA, a media monitoring group. Mediaedge:cia ranks sixth among media networks with billings of close to $19 billion in RECMA's rankings.

"Where I think we're getting better, having built diversification from the bottom up, is layering communications planning from the top," Mr. Courtier says. "We're getting very good at meshing those two things."

Marketers say that's important to them.

Communications planning
"They are continually exploring the way they look at communications planning," says Richard Wergan, worldwide brand director at Xerox.

Mr. Wergan was particularly pleased with a campaign that launched Xerox color printers last year in Europe.

"The whole premise was born out of the insight that people only see the benefit of color in a black-and-white context," he says.

Using traditional British newspapers, Mediaedge:cia negotiated to have Xerox sponsor the first color publication of "Alex," a cartoon about a cynical businessman that runs in the Daily Telegraph. Special themed story lines bolstered Xerox's message about the benefits that color can bring to the business world. Xerox also backed color in the business indices in The Independent, and The Times featured a color watermark behind its stock listings. Inventing a new medium for Xerox, Mediaedge:edge transformed the dull highway route between London and Heathrow airport with 3D lightbulbs on boards that constantly changed color.

Getting around restrictions
For global marketers, innovation can be found in simply getting around some of the irksome restrictions and regulations that make advertising more difficult. For instance, in Singapore, where out-of-home media is severely limited, Mediaedge:cia created a media opportunity by securing naming rights for client Citigroup on an office building even though its presence in the building was not that significant.

"We pay them to get the day-to-day stuff right," says Mark Ingall, managing director-global media at Citigroup. "Agencies always try to win you over with a clever idea, but that's 1% of my money. What about the other 99%?"

One thing he likes is the shop's innovative approach: "How can media get ahead of consumers rather than chasing them?"

"We've become very consumer-focused," Mr. Courtier says. "Historically, everyone walked in the door thinking television, television, television. We recognize everyone has to walk in the door saying, 'The consumer, the consumer, the consumer.'"
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