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The former ZenithOptimedia was split in two in 2016 as part of a wider restructuring of Publicis Groupe's various subsidiary networks. Zenith Media is the shop which, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, more or less set the standard for what a modern media agency does, as one of the first standalone units to provide international media planning, buying, evaluation and co-ordination services independently of a traditional advertising agency. Eventually overtaken by the newly demerged US-based media networks, its merger with Optimedia, previously the media department of Publicis Worldwide, pushed it back into the top ranks. However recent performance has been a little rough, especially in Europe, where the network suffered a series of key account losses from 2013. The overhaul of all Publicis Groupe media operations in 2016 led to the demerger of Optimedia into smaller unit Blue 449, leaving Zenith as a separate standalone brand. Many of the old network's back office functions were centralised at the same time in a newly created Publicis Media umbrella company. For 2019, COMvergence estimated global billings of $9.5bn.
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In the comparatively faceless and commodity-based media business, ZenithOptimedia built up a strong reputation for creative and innovative planning. Its work for Hewlett-Packard in particular won a string of awards around the globe during the 2000s, although that account later shifted to Omnicom in a global realignment by holding company. It was also noted for its global advertising expenditure forecasting, widely respected as a benchmark for the industry.
Until its 2016 split, ZenithOptimedia was the smaller of the two main global media networks within Publicis Groupe, behind what was then Starcom MediaVest). The ZenithOptimedia brand was positioned by Publicis as the "ROI Agency", with the promise to "invest, not spend, clients' budgets". That tagline was retained by Zenith Media, post-split. Advertising Age estimated global revenues of $874m in 2016, including $332m (or 38% of the total) from the US.
Though ZenithOptimedia operated for around 15 years as a single network, its two component brands had always retain a degree of independence from one another. In the UK, where Zenith is still headquartered, ZenithOptimedia had historically owned several specialist subsidiaries, including Zed Media for direct and digital media, and "challenger" agency Equinox. Towards the end of 2010, these were shut down and instead two separate teams were established under the Zenith Media and Optimedia banners. However, that restructuring was largely for internal purposes and for client reporting. In all other respects, ZenithOptimedia continued to present itself as a single agency. Some specialist units remain, including out-of-home planning unit Meridian Outdoor, a joint venture with Dentsu Aegis-owned Posterscope. In 2016, Nielsen (in Campaign) ranked Zenith as the #5 local media agency with billings of £588m. Key accounts that year included Reckitt Benckiser, Nestle, Mars and Mercedes-Benz. The corporate entity - still ZenithOptimedia Ltd - reported billings of £572m in 2016 (up 12%), revenues of £35.0m (up 8%) but net profit which more than halved to £682k.
In the US, Zenith acquired Atlanta-based specialist Moxie in 2006 to bolster its digital capability - Moxie handles both creative and media - and also established multicultural unit ZO. In 2013, the group expanded its activities, acquiring and absorbing another digital marketing agency Enguage for an undisclosed sum. It has also spread its wings internationally, opening two offices so far in Europe.
Other specialist units under what is now a shared Publicis Media umbrella include social media arm Performics and branded content arm Newcast. A further, and slightly less orthodox, addition to the portfolio in 2015 was Relaxnews, a news and content development service specialising in the leisure industry. Publicis acquired a 70% stake for around €15m. The business was sold back to management four years later.
The seeds for the full separation of Zenith and Optimedia were sown in 2013. ZenithOptimedia UK suffered a disastrous year that year, losing several large accounts, not least British Airways and L'Oreal. Publicis Groupe moved to bolster the business by acquiring a 75.1% shareholding in rival agency Walker Media, then a wholly owned subsidiary of M&C Saatchi. This joined the ZO UK group, although it retained a standalone identity. In Mar 2015, Walker Media relaunched under the new name Blue 449, forming the core of the new micro-network that later absorbed the Optimedia brand and was spun out as a separate division.
In several significant markets, the Zenith and Optimedia brands had already always remained separate because of client conflicts. As of mid 2014, Zenith and Optimedia operated as separate agencies in eight countries, including the US, Germany, Spain and China.
In most other markets the local offices of Zenith and Optimedia have been merged to form a single company. In Australia, the local office of Zenith was run for several years under license by George Patterson, later part of WPP; Publicis reacquired rights to the Zenith brand in 2005 and Zenith and Optimedia Australia were merged in 2006. In Germany, the Zenith brand was merged with More Media, formerly an operating arm of local advertising agency BMZ, also owned by Publicis. Known as ZenithMoreMedia for several years, it finally dropped the "More" tag in 2005 to become Zenith Media.
Under the complete overhaul of Publicis Groupe's media operations announced in March 2016, the Zenith and Optimedia brands were split in all territories. Optimedia was being merged with Blue 449 to create a "global challenger network". This was originally to be called Optimedia Blue 449, but this plan was revised at the end of the year, with the Optimedia banner being dropped altogether. Most back office functions were at the same time absorbed into an expanded Publicis Media umbrella company.
Zenith Media was founded at the end of 1988, following Saatchi & Saatchi's acquisition of independent British media agency Ray Morgan & Partners. Morgan had previously been managing director of Mercury Media, the inhouse media unit of creative agency Benton & Bowles. Following the merger of B&B with Masius in 1985, Morgan and virtually all staff jumped ship to set up as an independent company, taking around 90% of their clients with them. They were acquired three years later by Saatchi. John Perriss, then a senior media planning director at Saatchi proposed to the Saatchi brothers that Ray Morgan & Partners become the core of a new standalone entity that would absorb the media departments of the Saatchi group's numerous existing agencies. The reasoning was that such a split would create a business that was not directly allied to a particular creative house, and could therefore operate with greater freedom and at the same level as the new generation of ever-enlarging mediaowners, who now controlled several often competing outlets of their own. Perriss also proposed using a different name to emphasize the new company's notional independence from Saatchi, and therefore attract clients whose advertising was handled elsewhere.
At the time, the decision was greeted with astonishment (and even derision) within the industry, including within Saatchi itself. There were already several so-called media independents in the market, privately owned companies unaffiliated to creative agencies, who handled their own media buying inhouse but tended to work only for small clients. Zenith was the first of what came to be called "media dependents", separately branded media specialists operating alongside and under the same ownership as a creative agency. Saatchi's Although a few accounts were lost as a result of client conflicts, Zenith began to pick up new business during 1989. Kraft General Foods handed Zenith control of its £35m account in 1989. The following year, Allied Lyons placed its £45m account with the agency.
In 1994 Zenith took its first steps into continental Europe, covering the territory by 1997. A Hong Kong office opened at the end of 1994. In 1995, just after the ousting of the Saatchi brothers from Zenith's parent, the group opened its first US office, in response to a decision by Mars to move part of its TV buying away from the group's Bates agency. A year later, the company launched two subsidiaries, direct response unit Zenith Direct, and Zebra Media, initially a joint venture with Leagas Shafron Davis (and later absorbed into Zenith). However as Saatchi & Saatchi underwent severe management upheaval during the 1990s, Zenith also threatened to lose its way. The departure of the Saatchi brothers led to confusion and internal rivalry. A management reshuffle in 1997 put the agency back on course, although the subsequent demerger of Cordiant and Saatchi's created a complicated new wrinkle, with the network now operating as a joint venture owned by two separate and competing companies.
The next few years were uncomfortable for Zenith's management team, who came to feel increasingly neglected by their controlling shareholders, as well as resentful of the financial restrictions imposed by the ownership structure. By 2000, only around 5% of Zenith's billings came from Cordiant, and just 26% from Saatchi's, while the rest was generated by third-party clients. Yet Zenith was obliged to pay over 75% of its profits to its two owners, leaving it little available cash with which to compete effectively in the fast-consolidating global media market.
The acquisition by Publicis of Saatchi & Saatchi, and therefore also of Saatchi's 50% stake in Zenith Media, raised the distinct possibility that Zenith might be merged with Publicis's existing media division, Optimedia. The latter had first launched in 1989, initially spun out of the Publicis media department in France. But as the French agency's relationship with then-partner FCB developed, the brand was rolled out into Italy, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Belgium and Greece to represent the FCB-Publicis network. It launched in the UK in 1992, absorbing the media department of local agency Geers Gross, acquired by Publicis the same year, and moved its HQ from Paris to London. Optimedia's big break came in 1995. Ousted from the agency he had founded, Maurice Saatchi took the prestigious British Airways account with him to his new business, M&C Saatchi. But the start-up shop had no presence outside the UK and Saatchi was only able to win the business because he forged a strategic alliance with Optimedia, which took over worldwide media for the airline. In 1999, the network fleshed out its offering with the launch of village@optimedia, based in the UK. This created a pool of linked companies offering media-related services, including sponsorship, product placement and database management to network clients.
By 2000, Optimedia had a broad global spread across Europe and Asia, with dedicated offices in 30 countries, and local representation through Publicis or affiliates in 70 more. But crucially there was no major US outpost until March 2000 when Publicis acquired leading independent DeWitt Media. Founder Gene DeWitt initially stayed on to head Optimedia in the US, taking over the media accounts of Publicis's growing number of local accounts. There were purchases in other countries also, including the absorption by Optimedia Netherlands of Media Independent, one of that country's last independent media agencies. However a crushing blow came with the loss of the prestigious pan-Euro Renault account, worth £360m, to Carat.
Publicis quickly opened talks with Cordiant in summer 2000 regarding a merger of Zenith and Optimedia, but the two sides failed to reach terms. In October the relationship soured after Hewlett-Packard, a Saatchi client whose lead media agency was Zenith, consolidated its $500m global media account into Optimedia. Cordiant claimed Publicis was in breach of the old agreement between Saatchi and Bates, whereby both companies' media business would all be handled through Zenith. The question of how to manage the ownership of Zenith was finally resolved in July 2001 after Cordiant's own financial problems took a turn for the worse. Publicis and Cordiant agreed to transfer both Zenith and Optimedia into a new holding company in which the French company held a 75% stake, to Cordiant's 25%.
Following completion of that deal, the group began selectively merging local operations in some countries. The two brands were combined in the UK in February 2003. The troublesome task of sorting out overall ownership of the network and its various outposts was finally resolved later the same year. Following the takeover of Cordiant by WPP, Publicis bought out Cordiant's remaining 25% stake in Zenith Optimedia for £75m. This left the question of several Zenith-branded offices which had been majority owned by either Cordiant or Publicis. When the Zenith brand was originally created from the media departments of the Saatchi & Saatchi and Bates Worldwide advertising agencies, the network was operated in some countries through representative offices of one or other of the ad agencies. For example, Bates controlled the Zenith operations in Hong Kong, Malaysia, India, Australia and New Zealand, while Saatchi controlled China, Singapore and Thailand. Historically this had not created any problems for the media network, but the situation became steadily more complicated following the separation of Saatchi and Bates, and then the subsequent acquisitions of both Saatchi and Bates by Publicis and WPP respectively. In a separate transaction from WPP's sale of its inherited 25% stake in ZenithOptimedia, these "inbetween" offices were split between the two groups, with WPP taking full control of the Hong Kong, Indochina and Indian offices.
Following this unravelling of the old business, John Perriss, former head of Zenith and founding CEO of Zenith Optimedia Group, announced his retirement in Spring 2004.
Last full revision 4th April 2018
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