Zenith's Jones makes some noise for media planning, ROI and tools

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The post-punk lifestyle is known to take many varieties. Among the strangest, an ROI-obsessed head of a media buying and planning agency that controls $8 billion in spending.

That's how it's gone for Tim Jones, CEO of ZenithOptimedia USA, who just about a quarter-century ago was no stranger to the London live music scene, singing and playing electric guitar for bands with names like Cacophony and Nebula.

"We didn't make any money, and we were pretty appalling," he said.

Second lives are far from uncommon, but Mr. Jones is so carefully spoken and buttoned-down that anything other than an Eton and Oxford rearing can come as a complete shock. When told about Cacophony, Don Apruzzese, senior director-consumer marketing at Astra-Zeneca, let out a surprised howl. But after the laughter subsided, he said: "I can see that. Tim's very, uh, business-oriented, but that calm exterior belies a fun side."

In 1979, a fresh-out-of-the-club-life Mr. Jones decided to skip a trip to the University of Bristol for a job at Ogilvy & Mather while the agency was in the middle of an ultimately successful pitch for the British Airways account.

Thus began a journey that culminated in his promotion last August from chief strategy officer to his current role as CEO of the U.S. operation of Publicis Groupe's Zenith-Optimedia. With that move, Mr. Jones took on U.S. responsibilities of CEO of the Americas Rich Hamilton, who went on leave for personal reasons. Neither Mr. Hamilton nor the agency will comment on when or if he will return.

Mr. Jones, 46, is now charged with continuing to raise the North American profile of a U.K.-birthed agency that's grown by about 30% over the last year-his claim-as it got up and running with 2004 wins including Nestle and Hewlett-Packard Co. buying and planning consolidations, as well as 2005 wins including JPMorgan Chase, L'Oreal's Maybelline and Richemont. Staff is up to 900 and has more than quadrupled since 1999, when Mr. Jones arrived in the U.S.

Just like his rivals at other agencies, Mr. Jones has been tasked with making sense of the chaotic media environment and growing concern about measuring the expenditures on media.

"Clients are challenging us to move into a new age of consumer empowerment, looking to engage consumers" through traditional and nontradi- tional use of media, Mr. Jones said, adding "that's a challenge to us in both the planning area and buying area."

Over the past three years, he's been working to further hone the agency's return-on-investment capabilities, improving proprietary tools to go beyond media measurement terms like gross rating point and cost per thousand. The goal is to become "ROI-centric" and deliver measurement capabilities for awareness and preference, as well as impact on sales.

Despite Mr. Jones' rise up the ranks, Mr. Apruzzese said he's still very accessible. "He's very much involved."

"He is a true globalist," said Scott Berg, Hewlett-Packard global media director. "His measurement/analysis skills are fabulous."

Mr. Jones resides in Greenwich, Conn., with his wife and three children. Business and family commitments have kept his punk days in the past.

But he still gets to let his hair down every once in a while. Last month at Zenith's holiday party, Mr. Jones regaled his staff by handling the vocals on the Faces classic "Stay With Me." Was it hard to end it after just one song?

"That was enough," he said.

Just Asking

Tim Jones

ZenithOptimedia USA

What book is on your nightstand?

Malcolm Gladwell’s "Blink."

What do you TiVo?

Fox’s "House," HBO’s Sunday night, a lot of sports.

Who are some of the more frequently played artists on your iPod?

Van Morrison, Neil Young, Steely Dan, Elvis Costello, Beatles, Martin Sexton, Alicia Keys, Damien Rice.

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