Rating: 4 stars
ESSENCE: Carat stands apart from its competitors because of its fierce commitment to a media-and-research only business model. On the heels of a bang-up 2004 (Carat won part of Procter & Gamble Co.'s communications planning business), the past year was slightly less spectacular. Some uncertainty hovers over parent Aegis Group since French financier Vincent Bollore began buying shares in August. He now owns 25.5%, and the smart money bets he will bid for all of Aegis in the coming months.
NET GROWTH: Carat's big win was media buying and planning for Revlon, which helped soften the blow of the loss of Bank One. Other notable additions include cellular phone provider Amp'd Mobile, Pernold Ricard and Motorola. Losses include E-Loan and Orbitz. Longtime client CBS is in review at press time; Carat is defending.
MANAGEMENT: Carat in June hired Ray Warren, former managing director at Omnicom Corp.'s OMD USA, as president, Carat Media Group Americas.
CREATIVITY AND MARKETING EFFECTIVENESS: Carat created a unique sponsorship for client Philips on CBS' "60 Minutes" in which the media agency purchased all the commercial time for the Oct. 23 segment. In a move that amplified Philips' "Sense and Simplicity" branding campaign only half the time was used for ads; the rest went to the show.
Rating: 2 stars
ESSENCE: Initiative again lost more than it won, partly due to a loss it had little to do with: the departure of Bank of America, an Interpublic Group of Cos. botch job that sent the $600 million business to Omnicom Group. Some new-business momentum is needed-and fast. On the bright side, the Interpublic shop is more active than some peers in terms of research and planning innovations and developing measurement tools. And like Universal McCann, Initiative will benefit from Interpublic's smart, if belated, decision to develop holding-company media resources. Expect Worldwide CEO Alec Gerster to announce new North American leadership in short order.
NET GROWTH: Initiative picked up Computer Associates as part of an Interpublic win, as well as Victoria's Secret, Credit Suisse and Samsonite. Losses were Elizabeth Arden, Bally Total Fitness, Pennzoil-Quaker State and, of course, BofA.
MANAGEMENT: Mr. Gerster consolidated global management in New York, following the departure of Marie-Jose Forissier. A replacement for Carolyn Bivens, former N.A. president, is imminent.
CREATIVITY AND MARKETING EFFECTIVENESS: For Home Depot, Initiative executed a smart integration promoting do-it-yourself clinics, driving store traffic. One innovation, for AOL, was the Pod Puncher, five-second spots that run at the end of commercial pods, when commercials are less susceptible to cuts.
Rating: 3 stars
ESSENCE: Led by Chairman Jon Mandel in the U.S., MediaCom is a no-frills, bread-and-butter media agency: a new-business powerhouse, strong in traditional buying and planning. Less well-known for work in emerging areas, the agency is taking steps to better focus its energies on understanding consumer habits-crucial in today's fast-changing media environment. MediaCom, the media-buying unit within independent Grey Global Group, last March joined WPP's Group M media buying unit when WPP Group purchased Grey.
NET GROWTH: Major wins included Volkswagen of America (a consolidation after a shoot-out with MPG) and Royal Dutch Shell; others were Orbitz and JetBlue. Losses such as Supercuts were few.
MANAGEMENT: MediaCom leaders have rejiggered several areas to improve its grasp on consumer trends and behaviors. Its new Insight Partners unit assigns leadership in three key areas: consumer insights, led by Athena Kokas; channel insights, run by Alan Rovitzky; and analytics, which Russell Booth oversees.
CREATIVITY AND MARKETING EFFECTIVENESS: To spur sales of men's clothing for retailer H&M, MediaCom created a campaign that relied on mobile communication-the target demographic's channel of choice-to drive them into stores. Visitors to a micro-site received a mobile coupon, sent to a user's cellphone, offering a free dress shirt with the purchase of a suit.
Rating: 3 stars
ESSENCE: With CEO Charles Courtier at the helm, Mediaedge:cia in the last year focused on coordinating with other WPP Group media agencies. Mediaedge has strengthened its talent pool, remained competitive in pitches and is shaping up as a network to watch.
NET GROWTH: Big wins in 2005 included taking 60% of media responsibilities for Cingular Wireless' $1 billion media buying and planning account (Mediaedge was the incumbent on AT&T Wireless, which Cingular acquired), as well as buying for VF Corp. Jim Beam and Computer Associates departed. Cadbury Schweppes Americas, Scotts Co. and freight shipper DHL added business.
MANAGEMENT: Mediaedge calls its positioning "active engagement," which essentially means developing a connection with consumers and spurring consumer action. In response to the increasing importance of interactive and digital channels, Mediaedge united digital, direct and search under one unit, MEC Interaction, led by Rob Norman.
CREATIVITY AND MARKETING EFFECTIVENESS: Mediaedge created innovative print strategies for DHL, including a customized crossword puzzle in The New York Times Magazine that ran in addition to the regular crossword; it also negotiated unusual ad placements in U.S. News & World Report's Letters to the Editor section. An online ad campaign for Colgate-Palmolive Co., targeting potential customers by psychographic characteristics, spurred an increase in total sales for Colgate and its Colgate Total brand.
Rating: 4 stars
ESSENCE: Under the leadership of CEO Laura Desmond, MediaVest continues to build an impressive roster of clients and expand its expertise in areas ranging from digital to research, content creation as well as traditional media buying and planning.
NET GROWTH: In conjunction with sibling agency Starcom, MediaVest won substantial work from Procter & Gamble Co. (already a client): part of the massive Gillette media buying and planning business and some General Motors Corp. buying business. Other wins including Abbott Laboratories, Mattel and EarthLink offset the loss of NBC's media planning account, which MediaVest shared with another agency.
MANAGEMENT: Responding to digital communications' increasing influence, MediaVest has more than 20 digital experts on staff and intends to build digital expertise across all of its teams. Jim Kite joined as exec VP-director of insights, research and accountability in April and has beefed up the agency's research products. With more than 60 cable partners, MediaVest created an automated cable transaction system that eliminates old-fashioned paper and fax communication.
CREATIVITY AND MARKETING EFFECTIVENESS: MediaVest expanded the role of Sprite's mascot, Miles Thirst, beyond his role for the beverage's sponsorship of NBA "All-Star Weekend"-a key event for teen influencers. For instance, the character now hosts The Scenario, a music Web site on MSN.
Rating: 4 stars
ESSENCE: MindShare, largest of WPP Group's media nets, is both a solid media buying and planning agency as well as an innovator. Led in the U.S. by Marc Goldstein, the media shop is a leader in developing new resources and programs to understand consumer behavior. Its fast-growing entertainment unit continues building on earlier successes. An investment by WPP in Weinstein Co. provides MindShare with first-look options on product integration deals in film.
NET GROWTH: Big wins including $100 million Lenovo and Ameriprise Financial Services partly offset the impact of a major client departure: Gillette.
MANAGEMENT: Peter Tortorici, head of MindShare Entertainment, was elevated to a global role. In New York, David Lang joined the unit from Lorne Michaels Broadway Video. Scott Neslund of Starcom's StarLink division, joined MindShare as managing director in Chicago; Tata Sato joined MindShare's research group as director of insights, a new position, from Y&R Advertising.
CREATIVITY AND MARKETING EFFECTIVENESS: "Sears Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" maintains its popularity and remains a model for other product placements. The campaign for Real Beauty, created for Unilever's Dove, masterfully leveraged word-of-mouth, out-of-home and PR. It created customized messages to reach the "Axe guy," the young male target for Unilever's body spray-including bar and campus media.
Rating: 2 stars
ESSENCE: The media buying and planning entity of Havas, MPG started the year with a big loss-Intel Corp., which followed Volkswagen of America's December 2004 departure. Sixty jobs were eliminated as a result, but MPG has picked up steam since Charlie Rutman joined in April as CEO. Still, MPG needs greater heft-more volume and geographic expansion overseas to compete with bigger competitors. With French financier Vincent Bollore as chairman of MPG parent Havas, many expect he'll make a deal that will help MPG achieve those goals.
NET GROWTH: MPG replaced Intel and other departed clients The Hartford, Delta Faucets and Welch's with impressive wins from Hershey Foods Corp., AutoZone and E-surance. Nearly 50 of the positions that were axed early in the year have been refilled. VoIP phone service provider Vonage and Goodyear have added work.
MANAGEMENT: When Mr. Rutman came on from Aegis Group's Carat, he filled a post vacated by Jim Rose, who left MPG in 2004. Mr. Rutman promoted Coleen Kuehn to exec VP-chief strategist and rejiggered Boston management, replacing John Gaffney with Ellen Comley. MediaContacts hired several new senior executives.
CREATIVITY AND MARKETING EFFECTIVENESS: MPG's savvy investigation and use of online channels, augmented with direct response TV spots and search, helped Vonage convert curious consumers into new customers at an efficient price. A highly targeted viral media campaign, featuring a humorous Web commercial created by partner Biocompare.com, a media company that targets people interested in buying and selling technology associated with the life sciences industry, tallied 30,634 views, 60% of which came from link pass-alongs.
Rating: 2 stars
ESSENCE: 2005 ended on a sour note for Publicis Groupe's Optimedia when BMW of North America moved its media buying business to Omnicom Group's GSD&M, just weeks after the automaker parked its creative business there. Before that the agency had seen a quiet year, marked mainly by pharmaceutical marketer Sanofi-Aventis' consolidation and some smaller account wins. Optimedia will have to pick up the pace on new business and innovations if it wants to avoid being overshadowed by its fast-growing sibling agency Zenith. With Zenith, Optimedia sealed a partnership with talent agency The Firm. Optimedia also created a new media technologies group.
NET GROWTH: Optimedia shared in the Nestle consolidation, locked up the Sanofi-Aventis global business and won planning duties for Maybelline. Losses included BMW and the jeweler Zales.
MANAGEMENT: Optimedia stalwart Bob Flood, exec VP-director of national electronic media, left for MTV Networks. But CEO Mike Drexler replaced him with Deutsch's Larry Novenstern. New-business executive Bob Lilley also departed the agency.
CREATIVITY AND MARKETING EFFECTIVENESS: Optimedia helped Garnier Fructis gain market share with an out-of-home program in major U.S. cities. The agency helped turn a partnership between client Whirlpool and Habitat for Humanity into an effective campaign that saw upticks in sales, customer loyalty and awareness. A TV and online plan for T-Mobile's prepaid program helped gain share against Virgin Mobile. A goal of 2.5 million subscribers was achieved four months ahead of schedule.
Rating: 2 stars
ESSENCE: Having struggled with attracting marketers since its 2002 U.S. launch, PHD U.S. showed some promise last year with a number of new-business wins. However, it still needs to show it can reel in the blockbuster account; Omnicom Group's commitment to building out PHD into a bona fide No. 2 global network to OMD should help. Rather than make a play for Aegis Group's Carat, as many observers had expected, Omnicom is committing to extend out the network in Europe and Asia.
NET GROWTH: Charles Schwab & Co. consolidated its $114 million account at PHD. Other wins included Reebok, National Hockey League, Jim Beam Brands and Hibernia Bank. Mitsubishi Motors North America increased its spending on launch advertising. On the down side, it lost Porsche.
MANAGEMENT: In late 2004, Matt Seiler made the leap from Omnicom corporate to U.S. president of PHD and promptly shook up the agency's account team structure to better utilize tools like branded entertainment and other Omnicom resources. PHD also created Drum, a joint venture with sibling entertainment marketing agency Davie-Brown.
CREATIVITY AND MARKETING EFFECTIVENESS: PHD's integration of Banana Republic in Bravo's "Project Runway" is a deal that's fast becoming a case study in branded-entertainment effectiveness. The formation of Drum should lead to more of these projects. There was also strong work for Discovery Communications, including the launch of "Miami Ink" for TLC. PHD pushed Schwab into nontraditional channels for the "Talk to Chuck" campaign.
Rating: 5 stars
ESSENCE: One of the strongest U.S. players, Starcom in 2005 continued to distance itself from its competition. The agency, which began the year with a blue-chip client roster, reeled in business by prevailing in some of the industry's top reviews. John Muszynski, named CEO in February, continues to push to develop insights into consumer contact and understand how new technologies affect media consumption.
NET GROWTH: Starcom, which has handled General Motors Corp.'s planning for years, picked up half of the automaker's buying assignment. (The other part is with sibling MediaVest.) Already a Procter & Gamble Co. roster agency after the consumer products giant completed its purchase of Gillette Co., Starcom won a portion of buying and planning. Other noteworthy wins included Luxottica, Washington Mutual and most recently, Macy's $200 million account.
MANAGEMENT: CEO Muszynski oversaw some innovations, including creation of a Video Investment Group, led by Tracey Scheppach. The group of specialists, trained in both TV and digital, investigate developments in addressable advertising. Starcom also encourages all employees to use advanced technology by promoting tech purchases through an allowance plan.
CREATIVITY AND MARKETING EFFECTIVENESS: To differentiate Allstate, Starcom positioned it as a home security source. The agency fashioned a series of protection tips for the insurer and integrated the brand into 40 episodes of Discovery Channel's "It Takes a Thief," to show homeowners how vulnerable they are to break-ins, which brought attention to Allstate and drove viewers to a micro-site. Prior to the launch of P&G's new Tide to Go, the agency launched PR and interactive programs meant to encourage visits to Tide.com and generate buzz.
Rating: 1 star
ESSENCE: If 2004 was a year to forget for Universal McCann, then the first nine months of 2005 is a time to be surgically erased from agency memory. Management turmoil and major client losses continued to mount as Lowe's and General Motors Corp., for which the Interpublic Group of Cos. shop bought local media, flew the coop. By year's end, however, a bright side emerged when Nick Brien was culled from Publicis Groupe's Arc as the new global CEO and the agency shared in McCann Worldgroup's win of the U.S. Army's massive recruiting account. The task list for Mr. Brien is clear: re-establish Universal McCann's brand and bring in some new talent and clients. That should be made easier by Interpublic's commitment to better pooling holding-company media resources, exemplified in last May's hire of Mark Rosenthal, former president-chief operating officer at MTV, as chairman-CEO of Interpublic Media.
NET GROWTH: Army and Intel helped cushion the blow of the high-profile losses, but they were both part of broader Worldgroup victories. UM has to demonstrate it can net media-only clients.
MANAGEMENT: Mr. Brien, who will be tasked with filling some prominent leadership vacuums worldwide, replaced Robin Kent, who left in March. A major loss was strategist Mark Stewart, who moved to Omnicom's OMD. Another was global research director Jim Kite to MediaVest. Early in 2006, Mr. Brien tapped Carat exec Wayne Fletcher as head of global communications planning and promoted Mary Gerzema to president of the U.S. region.
CREATIVITY AND MARKETING EFFECTIVENESS: One of Mr. Brien's chief priorities will have to be to modernize UM's research and measurement tools. UM's "Survivor" integration deal for Johnson & Johnson's Tylenol scored high in terms of recall.
Zenith Media USA
Rating: 5 stars
ESSENCE: Zenith finished 2004 with two blockbuster wins-the consolidation of Nestle and Hewlett-Packard's media buying and planning-and began 2005 by picking up JPMorgan Chase. The exit of CEO of Americas Rich Hamilton, who went on leave in August, wasn't the loss it could have been, and Zenith USA remained a strong cog in ZenithOptimedia's global success story. The Publicis Groupe-owned agency used Mr. Hamilton's departure to promote loyalists, including Tim Jones, CEO ZenithOptimedia USA. Look for Mr. Jones to continue pushing Zenith's ROI-based positioning.
NET GROWTH: Zenith enjoyed success on the new-business front with the $300 million Chase account in addition to winning buying duties for Maybelline and Richemont. The only losses were Pernod Ricard and planning duties for Schering-Plough Corp.'s Nasonex.
MANAGEMENT: Peggy Green, now president-broadcast and entertainment, and Wendy Marquardt, now chief operating officer of Zenith Media USA, were promoted when Mr. Hamilton went on leave. Zenith nabbed Lisa Spielman from OMD to hold down the new post of senior VP-U.S. director of new business.
CREATIVITY AND MARKETING EFFECTIVENESS: There was innovative nontraditional work for Toyota's Scion, including a MobiTV buy, and for H-P's little-known TV line. Zenith helped Chase, a new client, increase awareness for the bank's credit card brand. An integration of Red Lobster into ABC's "According to Jim" was so successful-with some calling it a 22-minute ad-the network won't use it as a benchmark in its sales efforts, lest it set unrealistic expectations for others. And a partnership with The Firm should increase Zenith's presence in the branded-entertainment arena in a deal it inked with Zenith and partner agency Optimedia.