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Until recently, Starcom MediaVest (SMG) was the world's #1 media network. It was originally formed in 2000 from the merger of what were then the separate media arms of Leo Burnett and D'Arcy, becoming a partner to stablemate ZenithOptimedia within Publicis Groupe. The Starcom and MediaVest brands were for the most part merged as a single business, although they remained separate in a handful of markets, notably the US, to resolve client conflicts. Starcom was named US Media Agency of the Year in both 2006 and 2007 by Advertising Age, and as Media Agency of the Decade by Adweek in 2009. However overall performance was rocked after 2010 by several major account losses. The first major blow was the loss of the massive General Motors account in North America in 2012. Far more dramatic was the quadruple whammy of Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Mondelez and Walmart, all of whom moved their North America business out of the network during 2015 and early 2016. That prompted a complete overhaul. MediaVest was spun off and combined with smaller unit Spark, leaving Starcom as a separate standalone brand. The MediaVest brand was finally dumped in 2017 in favour of Spark Foundry. Many of the old network's back office functions have since then been centralised in the newly created Publicis Media umbrella company. COMvergence ranked the new Starcom as the world's #6 media network in 2019 with billings of $12.0bn.

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The old Starcom MediaVest network managed an estate of around 110 offices in 67 countries. It was the #1 media network worldwide in 2014, and also #1 in North America. It held #2 in Latin America (despite only a patchy presence across the region) and also in Asia Pacific (excluding local groups such as Dentsu), and but ranked a lowly #8 in the EMEA region, mainly because of a weak presence in key mainland markets such as France and especially Germany.

The group offers a full range of planning and buying services, across all media sectors. Until the 2016 rebrand, most offices operated under the name Starcom MediaVest. However, mid-year that year the MediaVest name and a few of its remaining US clients were hived off and merged with the much smaller Spark brand to create what is now Spark Foundry. Virtually all existing Starcom MediaVest outposts then adopted the solo Starcom name.

The key unit is Starcom USA in Chicago, effectively the global HQ and powerhouse of the global network. There are four main offices in the US: the majority of clients are handled out of Chicago, but there is also a presence in Los Angeles, mainly handling entertainment industry accounts. The New York office handles mainly Mars business. A fourth office in Detroit still exists but was downsized drastically following the loss of the General Motors account in 2012.

Renowned for its painstaking research into consumer behaviour, as well as innovative media solutions, Starcom ranked consistently as one of the most admired media agencies in the US during the 2000s. It won the accolade as Advertising Age's US Media Agency of the year no fewer than five times that decade, including two consecutive terms in 2006 and 2007. In the latter year, it captured almost $1bn in new billings, including the $600m Samsung account. Adweek named it Media Agency of the Decade in 2009.

Advertising Age estimated global revenues for Starcom of $1.05bn in 2017, including $434m (or 41% of the total) from the US.

In most markets, the MediaVest brand had already been absorbed into a combined Starcom MediaVest business. The main exception was the US, but also a handful of other territories, largely to resolve client conflicts. In the US, New York-based MediaVest had a strong heritage as a broadcast media buyer, strongly associated with Coca-Cola and especially Procter & Gamble. A separate Los Angeles office led the agency's branded entertainment operations, having evolved from the old TeleVest subsidiary, which was responsible for television production of, among others, P&G-backed soap operas including As The World Turns. The agency enjoyed an especially strong 2013, winning US media for Honda, among other accounts. As a result it was named as Adweek's Media Agency of the Year.

In North America, Spark Communications (which changed its name from StarLink in 2007) had been a subsidiary business specialising in digital media strategy, planning and buying, mainly for smaller clients. However it was relaunched in 2012 as a smaller standalone network, operating as a third media brand behind Starcom and MediaVest. In summer 2016, following the loss of its two key US clients Coca-Cola and P&G, MediaVest's remaining standalone operations merged with Spark to create MediaVest Spark. In 2017, the MediaVest name was dumped altogether, and the network adopted the new name of Spark Foundry.

In 2011, SMG realigned the reporting structures for all global markets, dividing up countries beyond North America into two groups of "Dynamic Markets" and "Emerging Markets". In the UK, Starcom Motive was established in 2000 as a joint venture combining the media operations of Leo Burnett and Bartle Bogle Hegarty. The group bought out BBH's 50% share in 2003. Starcom Motive was renamed Starcom UK in 2005, and continued to operate separately from the former MediaVest London office. That was briefly renamed Starcom MediaVest before reverting to the MediaVest brand in 2007. A third unit, Starcom Direct, handled direct response media. All three operate under the general umbrella of the Starcom MediaVest UK Group, which ranked as the local #7 agency in 2015 with billings estimated by Nielsen (in Campaign) at £389m. A small number of clients were spun off in 2016 into a UK office of Spark Foundry, but for now that unit remains very small. For 2017, Nielsen continued to place Starcom UK in the #7 position with billings up sharply to £469m.

A separate regional agency operated until recently in the UK under the name MediaVest Manchester. However this business was only 20%-owned by Starcom MediaVest, with control retained by its founding partners, Dave Lucas and Andy Jeal. In July 2011, SMG agreed to sell its stake in this business altogether, and the agency was instead acquired by Aegis, becoming Carat Manchester.

The UK and France are traditionally Starcom's strongest markets in Europe. Elsewhere in the region it remains weak compared to Publicis stablemate Zenith. In Germany, for example, it sits outside the top ten media agencies. That unit was created by the acquisition of local agency Thomas Koch in 2001, creating what was initially known as TKM Starcom. In 2007, the group acquired independent Italian agency Muraglia, Calzolari & Associates, which rebranded as MC&A MediaVest. SMG Iberia manages the Starcom and MediaVest brands in Spain and Portugal. SMV has no branded subsidiary in Belgium; instead its interests are managed by local unit Space, a joint venture with WPP-owned Grey Group. Grey has 50% ownership of Space; Leo Burnett and Saatchi & Saatchi each own 25%.


Starcom MediaVest Group CEO Laura Desmond transferred to a new role in 2016 as chief revenue officer for Publicis Groupe, overseeing cross-group new business and strategic resource planning. However she subsequently took a six month sabbatical from the group, with plans to return in Jan 2017. She later changed her plan and left the group altogether. Several other executives also moved up into the newly created Publicis Media umbrella entity. Lisa Donohue, previously CEO of Starcom USA, was appointed as global brand president of the new standalone Starcom network; however she moved up in late 2017 to lead a new group-wide analytics division, Publicis Spine. John Sheehy is now global brand president.

Other senior managers at Starcom global include Kathy Kline (global chief strategy officer), Chris Vance (global director of brand integration), Kathy Ring (CEO, Starcom USA), Jodie Stranger (CEO, Starcom UK & president, global network clients EMEA). See Adbrands Account Assignments for other local leaders.


MediaVest was originally created from the media department of ad agency Benton & Bowles (later part of DMB&B/D'Arcy). In the late 1920s, B&B was a pioneer in the use of radio for advertising, and began creating its own programs to serve as springboards for its clients. The same approach was adapted for television with the growth of that medium in the 1950s, and in 1956 B&B and core client Procter & Gamble jointly created the CBS daytime serial As The World Turns, which was sponsored by P&G's newly launched Tide detergent. That relationship led to daytime serials becoming known as soap operas, since they were regularly interrupted by commercials for Tide, and rival detergents. Three years later, B&B merged its programming and media planning departments into a single unit within the agency.

For the next 30 years, this department continued to handle programming and media purchases under the overall umbrella of Benton & Bowles, and later D'Arcy MacManus Benton & Bowles. But in 1993, the most important team within DMB&B's media department, handling big ticket national broadcast television buying, was spun out as a separate unit under the name TeleVest. This business later absorbed first the spot and cable buying functions of media department, and then responsibility for other media as well. At the end of 1997 TeleVest had captured all of P&G's TV media, making it by far the country's leading buyer, and at the close of 1998, TeleVest was hired by Coca-Cola to help formulate a global TV strategy.

This centralization of media worked so well that DMB&B began to roll it out in other markets as well, creating the MediaVest brand for the first time in 1996 with the spin-out of the media department of its German agency. In 1997 the brand was extended to the UK with the rebranding of DMB&B UK's planning and buying arm, The Media Centre, which had achieved standalone status back in in 1991. By the close of 1998, the MediaVest brand had been established in four countries - France, Germany, Mexico and the UK. The following year, TeleVest also adopted the MediaVest name after absorbing DMB&B's planning department.

Other agencies were also establishing their media departments as semi-independent units. In 1997, Leo Burnett in Chicago had also established its media department as a semi-autonomous unit under the name Starcom. Like TeleVest at DMB&B, initially it was simply the Leo Burnett in-house media department under a new name, only handling existing Burnett clients. But those clients were big hitters, including Procter & Gamble (in 45 countries), Coca-Cola (in 13 countries), McDonald’s (15 countries), and Kellogg's (32 countries), among others. In the US, Starcom spent almost $1.4bn on national and regional TV in 1997, and was involved in setting up global deals for lead clients via Leo Burnett Media. Starcom launched in the UK in 1999, and soon capture the centralised Heinz planning account, as part of a growing centralization of Heinz business within the Leo Burnett group. Subsidiary business Starlink was established in 1999 to plan and buy media for smaller agencies, both within the Burnett portfolio and third-party.

Further consolidation was soon on the cards. DMB&B and Leo Burnett already shared at least two big-spending clients in P&G and Coca-Cola. During 1998 DMB&B's corporate holding company MacManus had begun discussions with Leo Burnett about merging their respective media divisions outside the US. These talks drifted on for a year before appearing to stall in early 1999. Rumours began to circulate that DMB&B was investigating a possible merger of MediaVest with another P&G agency instead, Grey's MediaCom network. Suddenly, at the end of 1999, the whole picture was resolved by the barnstorming BCom3 deal, merging the Leo Burnett and DMB&B corporate parents.

It was only a matter of time before further consolidation became inevitable. First, however, Starcom beefed up its UK operations by merging its local office with the media arm of Bartle Bogle Hegarty to form joint venture Starcom Motive. Shortly afterwards a combined team from Starcom and MediaVest were awarded Procter & Gamble's $150m of billings in China, then the biggest single media account in Asia outside Japan. Finally, in 2000, Starcom and MediaVest's dual status was formally resolved with the announcement of their merger to create Starcom MediaVest Group (SMG). Because of brand conflicts, the two arms remained separate in the UK, US and Brazil, but elsewhere most dual operations between the Leo Burnett and D'Arcy groups were merged, mostly as Starcom. The group scored two huge wins in 2000 - the $2.9bn consolidation of GM's planning business and Kraft's $800m consolidated media account.

In 2001, the agency combined its direct response units in the US to create Halogen, a standalone direct planning and buying shop with offices in New York, Chicago and Toronto. Meanwhile Tapestry was created as an alliance between newly formed Bcom3 multicultural arm Pangea and independent shop Unity Media to specialise in the US ethnic and gay market. Following several years of strong growth, the agency celebrated a string of substantial wins during 2003 and 2004, including consolidation of the US media accounts of Sara Lee, Coca-Cola and Mars/Masterfoods. In light of these successes, the agency was named as Advertising Age's US media agency of the year for two consecutive years in 2003 and 2004.

Last full revision 13th July 2018

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