ZenithOptimedia to split in half in dramatic restructure

ZenithOptimedia, for many the original home of the modern media agency, is believed to be heading for a dramatic split following a restructure at group level that also leaves Zed’s future in doubt.

Groupe created ZenithOptimedia in 2003 through a controversial merger of the
media planning departments of Zenith Media and Optimedia networks.

According to sources, Stephen Farquhar is set to become managing director of
Zenith and Mark Howley will become managing director of Optimedia.

Both are expected to continue to report to ZenithOptimedia’s current chief executive, Gerry Boyle.

Zed’s dead

The anticipated fracture leaves question marks over what
will happen to the group’s specialist standalone divisions Zed and Equinox, run
Paul Constantine and
Kevin Morton

It is
believed some of Zed’s biggest clients, including
Airways, Aviva and Comparethemarket could be subsumed into Zenith. Equinox
currently services a number of media accounts, including E-Entertainment, John
Frieda, Comedy Central and HTC Europe.

The split, if ushered through, will effectively end one of UK media’s most
controversial unions
, which resulted in a number of departures, including
Optimedia’s managing director Simon Matthews and head of Zenith Interactive Chris

At an international level Zenith Media and Optimedia
continue to operate as standalone businesses in a number of key markets,
including Germany, China and the US.

Whatever changes are being thrashed out on the planning side, we can
safely assume it makes no sense to separate Publicis Groupe’s media buying

It is easy to forget in today’s GroupM dominated landscape that Zenith was also the first agency to
recognise the value in bulk buying to the US
and Asia.

Will Zenith be single at 22?

Zenith is 22 years old this
month and widely regarded as the first media superpower to emerge outside of
the full-service agency model.

As Media Week’s former
editor Steve Barrett noted for its 20th anniversary
, “Zenith Media
Buying Services broke the mould in 1988, when Saatchi’s John Perriss conceived
and launched the first so-called ‘media dependant’.

“This new-look bulk-buying
operation was a conglomeration of the media buying departments of several
full-service agencies in the Saatchi and Saatchi Group and one of the bigger
media independents – Ray Morgan & Partners. In many ways, it was a
forerunner of what WPP has put together in modern times with its GroupM buying

It’s early days,
with plenty of table-slapping “discussions” still to take place, but both Zenith and
Optimedia are expected to remain at the Percy Street offices.

The divorce
comes during a relatively strong period for ZenithOptimedia.

The agency
has been highly commended for innovative work for a number of clients,
including its development of ‘content tagging’ to promote O2’s priority ticketing
service, and its ground-breaking World Cup work for Carling Home Draught, which
resulted in a regional TV competition being launched and aired just hours before
England’s first football game.

The group’s other large media operation, Starcom
MediaVest Group is also rumoured to be having a rejigg of its own, although it’s
not believed to be related to the ZenithOptimedia split or to be anywhere near
as drastic.

Interesting times ahead.

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    About time. Hopefully this will also result in the separation of media planning and media buying – which have been contaminating each other within media agencies for years. Will Z&O now be able to (more) legitimately talk about media neutrality? I think so. Good for clients. More agencies to follow suit.

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    My guess is that this is about having another network. WPP now has Mindshare, Mediacom, MEC, Maxus. Omicom has been defining OMD & PHD separately etc. At same time the Group/Global power negotiation centre is on the rise. So Group M at WPP. Vivaki at Publocis. If you build the critical mass of Vivaki, which Publicis has done….not least with shifting Derek Morris to lead it in UK…you then look at how this stacks up globally. If it is the case that Zenith and Optimendia are global networks, that Vivaki now has a bigger and more central Publicis role, then the global tidying is lmost obvious. One should not knock what Zed did. In pushing the joining up of digital etc in a bigger agency. It was ahead of many other agencies in doing this. The renaming is the small issue vs agreeing and building what the offering of the future is.

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    Hi, just heard that this news is not correct, so nothing is happening. At least not in my country which is one of the top 10 markets. Is it just a rumour or what?

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    Davide, I’m hoping by now someone has told you, but just in case, this news was absolutely spot on – as confirmed by Gerry Boyle a few days later. http://www.brandrepublic.com/news/1036276/ZenithOptimedia-plans-new-set-up