Top buyers plot upfront strategy

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1. Starcom MediaVest Worldwide, Chicago (Publicis Groupe)

Billings: $10.85 billion, up 7.2% Chief: Jack Klues, CEO Key clients: Avon Products, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., General Motors Corp., Sara Lee Corp., Walt Disney Co.

Upfront outlook: Starcom MediaVest is a rock. With straight-shooting John Muszynski, exec VP-director of broadcast investment, steering prime-time buys for Starcom and savvy Mel Berning, president-U.S. broadcast at MediaVest, expect this goliath to get in and out of the upfront with no pain and some gain. (Although the two shops do shop separately, execs are whispering that Starcom MediaVest CEO Jack Klues will throw the combined weight of its billings behind any deal to move costs per thousand downward. A spokeswoman at Starcom denied the rumor.) Question: Will they do good by their high-maintence Walt Disney Co. movie account? Tune in.

2. MindShare Worldwide, New York (WPP Group)

Billings: $8.65 billion, up 5.5% Chief: Dominic Proctor, CEO

Key clients: Unilever, Gillette Co., American Express Co., Novartis, Domino's Pizza, Burger King Corp.

Upfront outlook: Still the big media agency standard. Irwin Gotlieb, a dominating dealmaker when CEO of MindShare Worldwide, is now in his new title of CEO at WPP's GroupM media services parent company, adding the clout of the Mediaedge:cia buy. Expect GroupM to force big media owners into thinking twice about increasing CPMs. Mr. Gotlieb's accomplice: Marc Goldstein, president-CEO of MindShare North America, New York. These media agency Glimmer Twins should not blink when facing players like Mel Karmazin, Viacom's president-chief operating officer.

3. Initiative Media Worldwide, New York (Interpublic Group of Cos.)

Billings: $8.4 billion, down 15.2% Chief: Alec Gerster, CEO North America

Key clients: Bayer Corp., BellSouth Corp., Coors Brewing Co.

Upfront outlook: Client losses hit this media giant hard, including Burger King Corp. and Gateway. Expect Initiative to rely heavily on parent Interpublic's Magna Global, a bulk media-buying unit, to generate leverage in the market. Tim Spengler, exec VP-director of national broadcast, gets plenty of industry respect, but he comes to the market facing obstacles.

4. OMD Worldwide, New York (Omnicom Group)

Billings: $7.75 billion, up 1.4% Chief: Joe Uva, CEO

Key clients: Hershey Foods Corp., Johnson & Johnson, TAP Pharmaceuticals' Prevacid

Upfront outlook: OMD is a big question mark in the bidding this year. Mega-media newcomer Ray Warren arrives from Raycom to replace legend Dan Rank. Although he started as a media buyer at BBDO, Mr. Warren has been away from the annual TV process for years. CEO Joe Uva also comes from the network side, Turner Broadcasting System, and should know the score, but can longtime sellers really do the art of the buy? And will the shop renew that $1 billion Disney deal?

5. Universal McCann, New York (Interpublic)

Billings: $7.1 billion, up 16.2% Chief: Robin Kent, CEO

Key clients: Nestle Purina PetCare Co., Sony Corp.

Upfront outlook: Finally, after 15 years at McCann-Erickson, Donna Wolfe gets to throw her weight around at the fall season table. Universal McCann's director of broadcasting negotiations will command considerable respect in the market, as will her stable of thoroughbred brands including Johnson & Johnson. She will not have to depend on the Magna Global connection to cut the right deals for clients like Sony, which will likely bow out of the Magna option this year as it did last year, working closely instead with rising media star George Hayes, exec VP-director of agency-of-record accounts. Advertising Age's Media Agency of the Year should excel.

6. Zenith Optimedia Group, London (Cordiant Communications Group and Publicis)

Billings: $7 billion, up 16.7% Chiefs: Richard Hamilton, CEO, Zenith Optimedia Group-Americas; Michael Drexler, CEO, Optimedia

Key clients: AstraZeneca, General Mills, Verizon Communications

Upfront outlook: Will Zenith and Optimedia go to market together? Will their respective broadcast chiefs, Peggy Green and Bob Flood, join forces on the floor? Will Richard Hamilton, CEO of ZOG-Americas, leverage the combined media clout of both shops? Better yet, will Publicis units ZOG (they hate that acronym) and Starcom MediaVest join to upend the upfront? "I can't comment on any of that," says Mr. Hamilton, "just because I don't generally comment on that subject." As usual, ZOG will get what its clients want, at the right price. ZOG goes to the table this year with its first movie client ever, Miramax.

7. Mediaedge:cia Worldwide, London (WPP)

Billings: $4.66 billion, up 4.1% Chief: Charles Courtier, worldwide executive chairman

Key clients: AT&T Corp., Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Ford Motor Co., Yum! Brands

Upfront outlook: Rino Scanzoni, president-national broadcast, installed here by former TeleVest protege Irwin Gotlieb, will work to make GroupM a genuine partnership. Otherwise, the shop continues to struggle at establishing an identity of its own with clients and media owners. The big question: If the GroupM umbrella goes to market this year, will Mediaedge:cia's client Yum! Brands (KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut) and MindShare's Burger King and Domino's business feel cool about helping each other leverage buys?

8. Carat North America, New York (Aegis Group)

Billings: $4.32 billion, up 15.8% Chief: David Verklin, CEO

Key clients: Hyundai Motors America/Kia Motors America, Pfizer, Radio Shack Corp.

Upfront outlook: Carat has clout especially in the pharmaceutical category with Pfizer-soon to absorb Pharmacia, thus adding more drug muscle-but the shop will not rely on volume leverage as much as smarts. Carat in the negotiations will be under the leadership of Andy Donchin, lead broadcast buyer, and Catherine Warburton-Scott, senior VP-associate director national broadcast, known as the shop's "secret weapon." Support will come from their top TV research guru, Shari Anne Brill, and of course, Charlie Rutman, president of Carat North America. Expect this gang to come into the game early and cut deals before the megashops have time to think twice.

9. MediaCom, New York (Grey Global Group)

Billings: $4.2 billion, up 16.1% Chief: Jon Mandel, co-CEO, chief negotiating officer

Key clients: ConAgra, Diageo spirits and beer, GlaxoSmithKline, Procter & Gamble Co., Warner Bros.

Upfront outlook: The Sleeper. MediaCom has been quietly winning business and the respect-if not outright fear-of media, partly due to Jon Mandel's zeal to re-establish FCC rules on media ownership. In the upfront, it's the 24/7 workweek of the shop's attention-getting buying team, led by Donna Speciale, senior VP-director of national broadcast, that has commanded attention. MediaCom prides itself on being nimble. Though it lost the Pharmacia account to Aegis Group's Carat, MediaCom has other drug accounts and the Warner Bros. movie business. MediaCom has been elevating its strategic prowess, developing a unit called Real World Communications under the leadership of the other co-CEO co-managing director, Dene Callas.

10. PHD, New York (Omnicom)

Billings: $3.67 billion, up 4.9% Chiefs: Steve Grubbs, CEO, PHD North America; David Pattison, CEO, PHD Worldwide

Key clients: DaimlerChrysler, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Reebok

Upfront outlook: When PentaCom, DaimlerChrysler's Omnicom media shop in Detroit, was folded into PHD, the shop seemed to become an auto specialist. But PHD in New York retains its creative media mandate. Veteran broadcast buyer Steve Grubbs goes to market from New York and Marci Hill from Detroit. Automotive, of course, is the single largest category spender in the U.S., and the competition is fierce.

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