Media Agency of the Year

Global Media Agency Network of the Year: Mediaedge:cia

New-Business Haul Anchored by 'Life-Changing' AT&T Account Buoys Billings and Revenue Almost 20% in Agency's 'Best Year Ever'

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Mediaedge:cia is a down-to-earth, straight-talking media agency. The global network has all the bells and whistles of the digital age but is never flashy and would rather show marketers tough love than seduce them with sweet talk.
Back-to-back winners: Global Global Chief Operating Officer Alastair Aird (l.) and CEO Charles Courtier won't let victory breed complacency. 'You have to keep changing even when it all looks as if it's going well,' Mr. Aird says. 'You can't ever think you've got the winning formula.
Back-to-back winners: Global Global Chief Operating Officer Alastair Aird (l.) and CEO Charles Courtier won't let victory breed complacency. 'You have to keep changing even when it all looks as if it's going well,' Mr. Aird says. 'You can't ever think you've got the winning formula. Credit: Colin Bell

The agency wasn't afraid, for instance, to tell Ikea: They don't really like you in Poland. Specifically, half the country found the retailer's furniture cold and sterile and felt it wouldn't impress the neighbors. Even worse, Poles didn't believe the product quality justified the price or effort of traveling to an out-of-town Ikea store.

However, those reluctant shoppers, labeled "traditionalists" by Mediaedge:cia, were Ikea's only potential route to growth in Poland, where the retailer had maxed out with customers determined to be "modernists."

The agency's unlikely solution was a series of life-size cardboard cutouts of ordinary people labeled "I am somewhere else," accompanied by a link to the Ikea website and an SMS number where consumers could send a text messages.

In TV spots, the cutouts moved from public places such as bars and cinemas into their Ikea-furnished homes, where they blossomed into three-dimensional characters.

The campaign took on a life of its own. Consumers snagged the cutouts to take home, and Ikea Poland recorded the best visitor growth of any Ikea market in the world, with a 22% increase in store visits. SMS responses and website traffic were up 45%.

Winners again
Mediaedge:cia's clever solutions for marketers, combined with voracious growth and continuing innovation in diversified services, have given the shop back-to-back wins as Ad Age's Global Media Agency Network of the Year.

In 2007, Mediaedge:cia's global revenue jumped 19%; $4 billion in new business boosted billings an equally impressive 18% to about $21 billion.

The WPP Group-owned agency is rated No. 1 on media-agency monitoring service RECMA's Com-pitches report, which studied 2,179 pitches in 15 countries in 2007 and ranked networks by their success rates.

Global CEO Charles Courtier, who divides his time between London and New York, says he understood that the bar was higher after last year's win. "The second time," he says, "it has to be emphatic -- it can't be a borderline win. ... 2007 was our best year ever."

'Getting it right'
In the U.S., the year's big prize was the $2.4 billion AT&T account. "All wins are sweet," Mr. Courtier says, "but by dint of the size of AT&T, it was a life-changing thing to happen."

Wendy Clark, senior VP-advertising at AT&T, says Mediaedge:cia was the "outright" winner of the U.S. review despite stiff competition.

"They make you want to be better as a client so that you can benefit from their thinking," she says, adding: "They are deeply passionate about what they do. They really do eat, sleep and drink it. I love that about them. They are so focused on getting it right. They have the clout in the marketplace, and their grasp on the industry and its future enables them to lead the conversation."

AT&T and Mediaedge:cia are about to conclude "a landmark agreement" with a U.S. TV network, Ms. Clark says. "It's an incredible deal, and MEC has led the conversation and put together something we thought would not be possible."

The agency's other U.S. triumphs included Macy's ($500 million) and Energizer ($130 million). Big global wins came from Paramount ($250 million) and Monster ($140 million).

Paramount adds up
Mediaedge:cia is thriving on the buzz of new business and growth. "We are a big enough agency to bed in new business and drive growth," Mr. Courtier says. "It's part of our DNA. Every pitch is like starting life again from the beginning. The more you do it, the better you get. Our whole organization understands what our offer is and what we are able to deliver, which is a surprisingly hard thing to achieve in a global company. Lots of our growth comes from existing clients, and that's not about promises. They know what we can deliver, and they want more of it."

Paramount significantly expanded its business with Mediaedge:cia in 2007, adding Europe, Latin America and Asia to the existing North American account.

"We only officially started working together on Jan. 1, but already we have deals on the table," says Simon Combs, Paramount's VP-international media. "We wanted someone to help us pioneer smart, integrated marketing, and we very much like what we are seeing on a global, local and central level. [Mediaedge:cia is] a breath of fresh air. "

In 2007, MEC Access, the agency's sports, entertainment and cause-marketing division, launched officially as a cohesive global network in time for clients such as Visa to take advantage of this summer's Olympics and European soccer championship.

Global perspective
Jeremy Clark, managing director of MEC Access in Europe, Middle East and Africa, was instrumental in bringing the network together. "Lots of clients need help in this area," he says, "and we have a great team spirit around the world, which gives us the opportunity to talk to clients from a global standpoint."

In 2007, MEC Access put together a deal for DHL to sponsor the 15 Fashion Week events around the world. The agency embedded DHL in quirky ways, such as staging a fashion show where the models all wore clothes made out of courier envelopes.

AT&T (U.S.)
$2.4 billion

Macy's (U.S.)
$500 million

Paramount (global)
$250 million

Monster (global)
$140 million

Energizer (U.S.)
$130 million

Source: Mediaedge:cia and RECMA
"It's not just about doing deals," Mr. Clark says. "You have to get out there and sell more stuff, which is why we do activation planning to make sure we use the rights effectively across platforms."

For 2008, he's targeting the automotive, telecom and utilities sectors. On the digital front, the agency's MEC Interaction arm grew 52% in 2007, on top of 30% growth in 2006.

So much growth presents its own problems, such as recruitment. Some jobs at Mediaedge:cia have been filled internally via promotions, including Lee Doyle from head of client service to CEO North America (a post previously held by Mr. Courtier in addition to his global role) and Joost Dop from CEO of MEC Netherlands to CEO-Asia Pacific.

Developing careers
"We can also move people around the world, which is a strong card to play. What drives digital talent especially is money and lifestyle," says Alastair Aird, global chief operating officer. "We also have a digital training program where people spend six months in Western Europe."

WPP's Group M structure allows Mediaedge:cia to keep talent in the fold, moving among the Group M agencies, and develop careers without necessarily losing key players.

"We have to think creatively and try to cross people over from one discipline to another," Mr. Courtier says. "Even then, there won't ever be enough."

Growth also came from developing regions. Mediaedge:cia achieved double-digit growth in every market in Asia, attracting more than $500 million in new business. In Latin America, where profits have doubled in the past 18 months, the company says it achieved 17% growth in 2007.

India, where billings grew 50% last year, is a good example of the network's aggressive pursuit of local marketers, too, such as the $17 million Cavinkare personal-care-products account.

"We call ourselves the pitch junkies," says Shubha George, CEO of MEC India. "India is just growing so fast and is just coming into the digital age. It's very exciting. The young people especially are very diverse. In the large towns, they behave like people in the U.S. or the U.K., but at the other end of the spectrum, some don't even have access to TV. "

Most agencies boast a motto of some kind, and Mediaedge:cia's is "active engagement."

"We spend less time talking about it and more time actually doing it," Mr. Courtier says. "We are getting better and better at it."

Off-beat ideas
Mediaedge:cia's creative thinking spans everything from sophisticated digital solutions down to an idea as simple as getting thousands of people to brush their teeth at the same time for Colgate-Palmolive Co. The "Colgate Super Mega" toothbrushing event in the Philippines created a world record when 41,038 primary-school children brushed simultaneously at 13 venues nationwide.

Meanwhile, in France, Mediaedge:cia helped Wilkinson Sword challenge Gillette's market leadership and champion the rights of individuals to shave as eccentrically as they like. The agency created an underground movement called DARE to support men who don't subscribe to the concept of a "perfect" shave and often don't shave daily.

The viral campaign and website started with the back story of a man who didn't finish shaving because he had to flee a burning building, rescuing a baby on the way out and becoming a hero. Web users were invited to send in pictures of their own eccentric shaves, an idea that caught on and created an online community of eccentric shavers. Mediaedge:cia reported that more than 1.5 million votes were cast for the most eccentric shaver, the movement was written about on 100 blogs and Wilkinson Sword's market share rose to an all-time high of 23%.

Consumer cutouts, eccentric shavers -- it's all about change at Media-edge:cia. "You have to keep changing even when it all looks as if it's going well," Mr. Aird says. "You can't ever think you've got the winning formula."
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