But Cordiant's Zenith Media may have the most potential for change and growth of the three.
Although Bates and Saatchi & Saatchi initially will own 50% each of the London-based media buying company, Zenith Media Worldwide Chairman-CEO John Perriss is actively seeking new partners to speed its growth.
keeping options open
"My mind's open about one partner or two or three global or national deals," he says. "We'd like a stronger presence in billings in continental Europe and to accelerate geographical development in other regions like Asia, where I'd like to move faster, and Latin America."
Right now, Zenith claims billings of $5.6 billion from 41 offices in 23 countries in Europe, the U.S. and Asia Pacific. Half the billings are from clients won by Zenith, rather than funneled through Saatchi or Bates.
Mr. Perriss, a former Saatchi media director who started Zenith in the U.K. in 1988, wouldn't comment on prospective partners but says he is open to deals with other media buying companies, agency networks or companies in specialized areas Zenith would like to enter.
"We've been talking to a number of people as everyone talks," Mr. Perriss says. "But not in the sense that a deal is just around the corner."
In an industry where everyone talks to everyone else, the likeliest prospects comprise a fairly small field.
Speculation centers around Europe's two biggest independent media buyers, Carat International and CIA Group. Both are expanding in Asia, and Carat is developing its U.S. business (see story on Page S-1).
Brian Jacobs, managing director of Carat International, says, "There are no talks taking place between us [and Zenith]. The only thing I've heard is that [D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles and Zenith] have been in discussions."
"I'm sure at one stage we shall have talks with them," says David Reich, CIA's group chief executive. "I'm sure John Perriss must be inundated with phone calls after it was revealed Zenith will be looking for a partner to develop internationally."
Mr. Reich pointed out that CIA works for Procter & Gamble Co.'s rival Unilever, a possible impediment to a deal.
In addition, at a time when more agencies are trying to develop their own international media brands, DMB&B, Leo Burnett Co. and Grey Advertising are also considered candidates for a possible partnership.
INTERNATIONAL P&G SHOPS
Like Saatchi, they are international P&G agencies. Also, none of the three is aligned with any other media-buying group on an international basis.
The three P&G agencies are in various stages of developing their own international media-buying networks. Grey's MediaCom is strong in Europe and is expanding in Asia, Latin America and the U.S.
Starting today, DMB&B will use the name MediaVest as the new moniker of its U.K. media-buying company, Media Centre.
"We'll establish MediaVest on a worldwide basis. But the initial drive is in Europe, where the market needs are and where the competition is," says Adrian Birchall, president of MediaVest Europe, Middle East and Africa.
DMB&B WELL POSTIONED
DMB&B also has MediaVest companies in France and Germany and is a partner in local media buying operations such as Media Force in Italy, with Grey and Burnett, and Equmedia in Spain and the Netherlands with other partners.
"We've not had conversations that I'm aware of with Zenith," Mr. Birchall says. "Our priority is to establish MediaVest. However, we'd never rule out possible collaboration with one or more operators in the field. It's not happening, but I wouldn't wish to close any doors."
Burnett has local media-buying partnerships but no separate international media brand.
TALKED TO EURO RSCG
Zenith was in talks three years ago with Euro RSCG, but the French network instead formed a media joint-venture called Mediapolis with Young & Rubicam.
Mr. Perriss doesn't rule out a partner outside the P&G fold, even though Saatchi is a major P&G agency and Zenith has the agency of record media assignment for P&G in China and several other markets. Indeed, the greatest ambition of Kevin Roberts, Saatchi's new CEO, is to win more business from P&G and Toyota Motor Sales Corp., the shop's biggest clients.
"P&G is not a significant buying business for us although we do planning for them," Mr. Perriss says. "There are ways we could structure our service to P&G that would address their needs of security and control."
To develop in other areas, Mr. Perriss says Zenith is also looking for "anything that enables us to develop our presence in related service lines, like sports marketing and direct marketing."
SPORTS MARKETING UNIT
Zenith has had a sports marketing unit in the U.S. since opening in the market three years ago and started a direct marketing business, Zenith Direct, in the U.K. last fall.
Mr. Perriss claims Zenith will not lose Bates and Saatchi media-buying business when they become separate entities at the end of this year.
"They have an incentive to work with us because there is direct investment at the corporate level," Mr. Perriss says.
In addition to a 30-page shareholder agreement, a separate media-services agreement nearing a final draft spells out Zenith's role as a supplier to Bates and Saatchi.
"Our contracts with Saatchi and Bates will preclude them from sourcing from outside [Zenith]," he says.
Beyond opening more Asian offices this year, Mr. Perriss says that next year he anticipates "explosive growth in the U.S." for media-only services. He cited P&G's ongoing review to appoint a U.S. TV agency of record with unusually wide-ranging responsibilities as a major catalyst.
"P&G is such a bellwether for other U.S. clients," he says. "When other advertisers realize that's where P&G has drawn the line, the CEOs of other major companies will be turning to their executive VPs and saying, `Why aren't we doing what P&G's doing?"'
Contributing: Juliana Koranteng