Inside Story: Masters of the Ad Universe: The Top 12 UK Media Buyers ; They Purchase the Space and Plan the Campaigns for All Advertising in All Media. Raymond Snoddy Profiles the Powerhouses Who Dominate the Industry

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Media agencies were the unsung heroes in a communications world where the fame went to the creators of edgy television advertisements. But all that has changed as consumer loyalties and traditional audiences are broken down by the digital age. Now, it is the planners and buyers of airtime who have taken the upper hand, transforming themselves into communications consultants for a more complex age.

Very often they are part of a multi-billion pound international network that also covers research, econometric modelling, direct marketing, sponsorship, experiential and interactive advertising.

Tom George, the UK managing director of Mediaedge:cia, one of the networks owned by Sir Martin Sorrell's WPP, believes there has been a fundamental shift in the centre of gravity of the advertising industry. 'I would be so bold as to say that media agencies believe they are now the central hub of communications. It's the medium that is almost more important than the message,' he says.

Alexander Schmidt-Vogel, chief executive worldwide of Mediacom, recalls that when he started in the business nearly 30 years ago, the copy and the creative idea were the big things. Now, gaining access to increasingly demanding consumers is the imperative. 'Access became the most precious resource of communication. Now we [the media agencies] are at least equal to the creative idea, because the best idea doesn't work if it doesn't touch the consumer,' he says.

Some see the competition between the media agencies and creatives as a battle. Nick Manning, chief executive of OMB and founder of Manning Gottlieb, takes a different view: 'You need, not a battlefield between media agencies and traditional admen, but overlapping, collaborative relationships covering the entire industry. I'd rather grow the lunch than eat someone else's.'

Either way, media agencies will continue to hold enormous power, controlling a global market that was last year worth more than $226bn " power that could continue to grow.


Starcom The single largest global media agency last year, with billings of $20.3bn, a market share of 9 per cent and growth of 9.7 per cent, according to Research Company Specialising in Media Companies. The agency, owned by one of the leading groups, Paris- based Publicis, was formed two years ago, mainly from a merger of Leo Burnett's media brand Starcom and D'Arcy's Mediavest. It's huge in the US, where Starcom and Mediavest operate separately. 'Our proposition is what we call 'fuelling brand power' " making media make a difference to our client's business,' says Jim Marshall, the head of Starcom UK. Clients: Procter & Gamble, the COI, Kraft and Scottish Courage.



OMD Aims to give 'bigger, better services' to clients. The approach won OMD, which is owned by the US communications group Omnicom, the second-largest market share last year of 8.8 per cent, with $20bn in billings and 9.3 per cent growth. The chief executive, Nick Manning, says the 'better' service involves responding to the way consumers now see the world and interact with new forms of communication. OMD Fuse covers everything from branded entertainment to product placement, and another unit, OMD Insight, is researching the market importance of ethnic minorities and the significance of the over 50s. Clients: McDonald's, Virgin, Peugeot and Camelot.



MindShare The WPP-owned network, founded seven years ago, had billings last year of $18.7bn, with an 8.3 per cent global market share and growth of 8.8 per cent. The network is one of no fewer than three WPP international communications agencies, all operating independently, but which together give Sir Martin Sorrell dominant collective firepower. 'The house of media is how we position ourselves,' says Kelly Clark, MindShare's UK chief. 'We are offer clients a seamless, integrated service across every possible contact point with their consumers. …