MEDIA EDGE WINS WITH STRONG BENCH - RUNNER-UP: CHEMISTRY PROVIDES THE MAGIC IN MERGED OPERATION

By Published on .

Most Popular
When asked what she was most proud of in 1998, Beth Gordon responded "just getting through it."

To the president of Media Edge, however, "getting through it" means winning $1.1 billion in new business from accounts including Tricon Global Restaurants, Fort James Corp., Sony Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines; melding together the distinct cultures of Young & Rubicam and Wunderman Worldwide with its own; and moving 700 people into new offices.

CONSOLIDATION AT SHOP

Y&R in 1997 consolidated all its media buying under Media Edge, a move that had been expected since the agency in 1996 acquired the independent unit of N.W. Ayer & Partners.

Last year, Media Edge, an entrepreneurial group of 60 led by Ms. Gordon, was essentially charged with gracefully swallowing about 600 staffers from Y&R Advertising and Wunderman and turning out a fine-tuned machine that's focused and working together harmoniously to achieve goals. A pretty tall order, indeed.

Some observers claim 1998 should have been a chaotic year for Media Edge, with the task of not only growing from 60 to 700 staffers, but also relocating to offices 10 blocks north of Y&R's corporate headquarters, notes Tom Handy, Media Edge's chief financial officer.

"But the chemistry of our people still won out. We all sort of transcended the impracticalities of why we shouldn't succeed and had a fantastic year," he says.

"It's no easy job to blend the culture of Y&R with the Media Edge," says Linda Fidelman, president of New York-based Advice & Advisors, the consultancy that handled the Fort James media planning and buying review. "The transition appeared seamless to the outsider, and that is a credit to Beth."

Ms. Fidelman says that although the other finalists in the review, including Zenith Media Services, TN Media and McCann-Erickson Worldwide, had talent and resources on par with Media Edge, the chemistry in the agency was absolutely "magical," and ultimately won it the estimated $30 million-to-$40 million assignment.

DEEP RESOURCES

Indeed, Media Edge is known to have one of the deepest benches in the industry, with a senior management group of 24 people who have worked together in various capacities for close to 20 years.

"The merging of cultures happened painlessly compared to other places that have tried to do it," says Bob Igiel, exec VP-U.S. director for broadcast.

Some, however, say the task of molding distinct cultures into one hasn't gone as smoothly as Media Edge claimed. The agency did lose $150 million in billings in '98, including $60 million in spot TV buying for Paramount Pictures. The agency also lost billings from Irish Tourism Board and United Distillers USA.

One area of concern for Media Edge is the fact that Glaxo Wellcome, a $90 million buying assignment the agency won in '98, put its media planning along with its buying back in review.

"The Glaxo situation is an indication of the difficulty Media Edge has had in digesting another culture and personality," says Aaron Cohen, exec VP-director of electronic media, Horizon Media, and a former Media Edge executive who didn't survive the consolidation with Y&R. "Media Edge is definitely a company under pressure at the moment, both internal pressure and outside pressure from some very demanding clients."

FEEL GOOD ABOUT GLAXO

Executives at the agency insist the recommendation for Glaxo to consolidate its media planning came from within Media Edge.

"Glaxo can't exactly just hand us the media-planning assignment without having a review," says Ms. Gordon. "But we feel good about it and don't view it as a slap in the face but as an opportunity to grow our business."

Despite what some observers say are growing pains, there's no doubt Media Edge made some very innovative plays in 1998.

One of its more noteworthy successes was the creation of the AT&T Edge, a unit dedicated to its plum account that touts annual billings of more than $300 million. When AT&T fired McCann-Erickson, Media Edge picked up millions of dollars more in AT&T billings. The unit was instrumental in striking a mammoth $20 million-to-$30 million multimedia deal between AT&T and Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN and ABC Sports.

"The only way to take clients to a new level is to form their own unit," says Steve Lanzano, exec VP-planning director of AT&T Edge. "It's becoming a game of giants now, everyone is consolidating to leverage audiences together to build mass-media, multimedia packages."

The deal included cross-promotions and advertising with ABC's "Monday Night Football," ESPN Magazine and a first-ever title sponsorship of the Rose Bowl.

"The leverage is in forming better partnerships and relationships where the value created is well beyond a media buy," Steve Graham, AT&T's VP-marketing communications, told Advertising Age earlier this year.

PLUM FROM TRICON

Media Edge also picked up the $300 million media business for Tricon, a PepsiCo spinoff that includes buying for Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

"You can see that executives at Media Edge work together as a real team; they know each other's strengths," says Ken McCarren, CEO of the international Pizza Hut Franchise Holders Association.

He adds the agency has a "lot of well-earned clout which gives them more of a presence when it comes to buying."

Media Edge was instrumental in buying media to launch Pizza Hut's Big New Yorker, which included vertical roadblocks on NBC and ABC.

"They deliver real tangible benefits by leveraging their strength in the

In this article: