[London] one december morning, ZenithOptimedia executives totaled up and found the global media network had picked up $440 million in new business before lunchtime-from TNT Europe, Nestle in France and Hyundai outside the U.S.
That was a better than average day, but 2005 was that kind of year for ZenithOptimedia.
"We were like U2 on tour last year," says Steve King, worldwide CEO of ZenithOptimedia.
His agency team's grueling schedule paid off. By the end of the year, Publicis Groupe's ZenithOptimedia held 65% of Nestle's global media business (up from 19% before the review began in 2004) and 77% of L'Oreal's worldwide media billings (up from 26% at the start of 2005).
The operation also significantly grew its business with Hewlett-Packard Co. and Toyota, and produced some outstanding examples of creative media thinking for those two and other marketers.
"It was bloody hard work; I flew as many miles as a qualified pilot-I was away 60% of the time," says Mr. King, who also has five children aged 10 to 18. "It was tough on the whole team. Whole weeks went past when we weren't in the office."
L'Oreal, for instance, awarded ZenithOptimedia about $1 billion in media billings for its European consumer products division-a big chunk of the $2.5 billion the network picked up in new business in 2005. Further L'Oreal wins in the U.S., for Maybelline, followed.
Patrick Rabain, president of consumer products at L'Oreal Paris, says: "They won the pitch not just on value negotiation but also on their ability to train our managers to question the traditional way to build a media plan. Innovation is a key feature in L'Oreal product culture, and we are now looking forward to implementing it in media strategy and planning."
Mr. King, who was promoted to his current role in March 2004, believes the cohesion of the top team-including John Taylor, client services-worldwide, and Tim Jones, promoted to CEO of ZenithOptimedia USA in 2005-and its positioning as "the ROI Agency" help ZenithOptimedia stand out from its rivals.
Although competitors scoff that focusing on return on investment is hardly original, Mr. King insists: "It's unifying, clear and memorable. It opens a conversation with prospective clients."
And marketers seem to like it.
"These guys are the real deal," says Scott Berg, worldwide media director for Hewlett-Packard. "They all report to one person. There's one throat to choke."
The ROI Agency positioning grew out of a difficult merger between Zenith and Optimedia in October 2001.
Only in the U.S. do the two former international networks operate separately, to smooth client conflict issues.
"We lost people," Mr. King says. "There was disruption. We had issues with clients. We did a lot of navel-gazing before we decided on our position as the ROI agency."
ZenithOptimedia has applied the ROI principle to its own operations by investing in Touchpoints, a communications planning tool.
Touchpoints helps marketers figure out where they should be spending their dollars, demonstrating how to move money around for maximum effect.
Although every media agency has a proprietary tool kit, Touchpoints draws rave reviews from marketers. L'Oreal's Mr. Rabain says the tool played a role in the agency's appointment.
"It allows us to ask the right questions," he says. L'Oreal has already used Touchpoints to conduct studies in six countries measuring the relative impact on consumers of one of its shampoo brands vs. that of a leading competitor.
"It's important that every euro we spend is being spent effectively," he says.
HP's Mr. Berg says Touchpoints provides consistency across the globe, as well as cost savings because homegrown tools don't have to be developed in each country.
Growth of 15.7%
ZenithOptimedia posted the highest growth rate of any international media shop network last year-15.7% to total billings of $16.7 billion against an industry average of 7.4% growth, according to Paris-based media monitoring group RECMA. The agency also swept some of the top creative prizes for media.
The network's "Virtual History" project for HP won more media awards than any other campaign in 2005, according to the "Gunn Report for Media," which monitors media awards shows. (Another of the network's HP projects ranked fourth.)
Going beyond simple sponsorship, "Virtual History" was a collaboration between HP and Discovery Networks Europe to create a new technology-driven programming format for historical documentaries. The two-hour documentary chronicled a single day during World War II when German army generals plotted to kill Hitler. HP's computer generated graphic imaging was used to blend the faces of historical figures onto those of the actors in key roles. In addition, ZenithOptimedia orchestrated ads to get viewers to tune in, a press launch, a one-hour "Making of" program about the technology and a micro-site with more historical information and a competition inviting people to suggest other events in history they would like to re-create.
"That's where media is moving-to show the individual user how technology can benefit them," Mr. Berg says. "Virtual History" "is one of the best programs we've ever done. We don't even call [ZenithOptimedia] a vendor. It's the media team."
ZenithOptimedia faced a very different challenge with the U.K. introduction of Toyota's Aygo, an affordable hatchback aimed at a youth market that didn't find Toyota appealing. (Toyota does not have its Scion division to fall back on in the U.K.) To get around the problem, Aygo, pronounced "I-go," was launched like a band rather than a car, with its own spoof record called "Do Something Memorable."
In Australia, ZenithOptimedia turned the release of an ordinary disaster movie, 20th Century Fox's "The Day After Tomorrow," into a must-see film by playing on people's fear of drastic changes in climate.
Through sponsorship of the Australian version of "Big Brother" (see page S-12), the agency helped write a script in which the housemates were persuaded that their home, which is located in the Gold Coast tropics, was snowbound. The Big Brother contestants, stuck in a media vacuum, were convinced of the staged weather event, with their reactions broadcast to Australian viewers.
ZenithOptimedia still has some work to do. In 2005, the agency beefed up its Asian network, opening in South Korea and Mumbai, India, and doubling the size of the Hong Kong office. For 2006, the focus is on Latin America, where ZenithOptimedia is "underweighted," Mr. King admits.
The role of media agencies and the way they are perceived are changing, too, he says.
Have an advantage
"Everyone is fumbling to find their roles and position and responsibilities," Mr. King says. "It's simpler for media agencies. We are better placed to take advantage of the new communications paradigm. Five years ago, I'd have felt inferior to [Publicis Worldwide Chief Operating Officer] Rick Bendall and [ Saatchi & Saatchi Chairman] Kevin Roberts. It's not the case now. We are recognized as making an equal contribution to the group. I can't think of a single client where our relationship is not stronger than the creative agency's."
At a Christmas party, Mr. King gave his team T-shirts with a list of countries on the back in the likeness of a rock band's tour T-shirt. On the front was a picture of "Ben-Hur" from the movie's famous chariot race scene.
Ben-Hur, played by Charlton Heston in the film, "recognized that the first thing he had to do was to get the horses to run in the same direction," Mr. King says. "That's what our team does. We work together."
Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo and Alexandra Jardine
ZenithOptimedia?s Biggest 2005 Wins
$1 billion L?Oreal consumer products division/Europe
$400 million Nestle* includes France, India, Switzerland
$400 million Hewlett-Packard international
$300 million JPMorgan Chase U.S.
$200 million Richemont Europe & U.S.
*Nestle?s consolidation of media at ZenithOptimedia has been ongoing since 2004.