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UM (Universal McCann)

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Universal McCann - now generally known as UM - is a global media planning and buying network traditionally aligned with McCann Erickson, and reporting as part of Interpublic's Mediabrands umbrella. It was named Media Agency of the Year by both the leading US trade papers in early 2003, but subsequently suffered a string of account losses which severely dented its reputation. Parent group Interpublic initiated an an overhaul of the management team in 2005 in a bid to halt the leakage of further major clients. That process was finally completed in 2008 and the following year witnessed a string of account gains in Universal McCann's home market, enough to earn it the accolade as US Media Agency of the Year once again for 2009 from Adweek and as Comeback Agency of the Year from AdAge. It won that accolade again in 2016 for two more major wins, but at an international level, a prolonged turnaround has been harder to deliver. It remains among the lower ranks of international networks.


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UM has struggled to bolster client confidence after several years punctuated by high profile account losses during the 2000s, including Coca-Cola and General Motors in the US, Nestle globally, T-Mobile in Europe and others. That headline news tended to overshadow a number of local wins, but no one doubted that this was a fault line that needed to be fixed as a matter of urgency. The account losses were mostly stemmed by 2007, but big wins were slow to materialise until 2009, a year marked by several gains in the US including no less than two major car accounts: BMW and Chrysler. In total, Universal McCann USA added more than $1bn in new business during 2009, even without the Chrysler account which it took over in 2010. As a result, Adweek named it their US Media Agency of the Year. However, there have been few major account wins of that scale since then. Two major exceptions were capture of the global Johnson & Johnson account as well as Coca-Cola North America in 2015, offsetting several other losses. That won it another two Agency of the Year accolades from AdAge and Adweek.

UM claims a network of 130 offices in 100 countries, but in several cases local representation is pooled with IPG's other media units through the main McCann Erickson agency. The group was the overall #8 media services brand worldwide in 2013, and also in Latin America and Asia Pacific, but #9 in EMEA. Its best region was North America, where it ranked #6. Advertising Age estimated global revenues for UM of $520m in 2016, including $145m (28% of the total) from the US.

In Canada, UM had been represented since the late 1990s by M2 , an arm of the local Mclaren McCann agency. A separate dedicated UM office opened in 2010 to manage Chrysler and other accounts; M2 held the GM account. In 2015, Interpublic also acquired local independent Media Experts, and M2 was merged into the existing local Initiative unit a few months later.

In the UK, Universal McCann ranked as the local #12 agency in 2016 with billings estimated by Nielsen (in Campaign) at £209m. Key clients that year included Aldi, Gtech and Johnson & Johnson.

Performance remains uncertain across the whole network. After a couple of years of much-needed account wins in 2009 and 2010, there were also some significant losses in 2011: not least Microsoft in the US, SC Johnson in the UK and other international markets and Unilever in Australia. General Mills and L'Oreal USA were significant departures in 2015, along with German chemicals giant BASF.

Universal operates independently within IPG from its sister media network Initiative, except in Scandinavia, where the two businesses were merged as Initiative Universal Media. Universal and Initiative operate under the umbrella of IPG's Mediabrands umbrella, which supervises and coordinates the group's media-related activities.

The agency has spun off a number of specialist divisions including media marketing consultancy Universal Solutions, strategic research unit Universal Futures and online operation UM Interactive. UM Forecasting is the media expenditure forecasting unit, centred around famed pundit Bob Coen, author of the Insider's Report. Another specialist unit, Sandbox, was established in 2007 to handle communications planning for the consolidated Johnson & Johnson account. Although mainly aligned with Universal, it has an advisory panel drawn from other Interpublic agencies, including Initiative. It was renamed as J3 in 2008, and it was given a significant additional boost in 2015 from its global J&J win. MBTHree was created in Australia in 2011 to manage the substantial Coles supermarkets account. It was merged into the main UM office in 2013. UM Studios is a content creation unit working in several markets.

In 2011, Initiative and sister network Universal McCann both adopted a new global structure. Instead of being divided into regional groups such as EMEA and Asia Pacific, each network is now organised by three economic regions: North America; G14, comprising larger economies such as Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Spain, the Netherlands and the UK; and then all other World Markets. This structure has proved quietly effective, especially in emerging world markets, where UM has retained clients it has lost in more developed territories.


Matt Seiler was poached from Omnicom's PHD in 2008 to become worldwide CEO of Universal McCann. In January 2011 he was moved up to head umbrella unit Mediabrands, and was replaced in turn by Jacki Kelley, previously CEO, North America. In 2013, Kelley also moved up to Mediabrands as president, global clients (before surrendering that role a year later).

Daryl Lee was named as global chief executive of UM in 2013, succeeding Kelley. Other senior officers include Lynn Lewis (CEO, USA), Eileen Kiernan (president, J3), Karen Hunt (president, UM West Coast), Scott Russell (president, US Central region), Hamish Kinniburgh (global chief strategy officer), Huw Griffiths (global chief product officer), Jon Stimmel (chief investment officer), Bendan Gaul (EVP, global creative director & head of UM Studios/J3 Studios), Dianne Richardson (EVP, chief strategy officer, US) and Joshua Lowcock (EVP, head of digital, US). Russell Place is managing director of UM UK.


Universal was one of the last of the big media shops to get a global roll-out. The Universal McCann brand originally launched in the UK in 1975 when a separate financial and recruitment advertising unit was established, but it was shut down in the mid-1980s. The brand was resurrected in 1990 by McCann-Erickson Manchester, as the title for a standalone media-buying shop. A year later, McCann and sister agency Lowe combined media operations in some European countries under the Universal Media name, but this operation also closed after Interpublic acquired media agency Western International, which took over some media responsibilities for Lowe. The media buying department of McCann London was eventually split out in 1995 as Universal McCann. Media planners were rolled into Universal McCann over the next few years.

Encouraged by the success of Universal McCann London, the group confirmed plans to extend the brand to other territories in 1999. The first was the all-powerful US market, where in-house media departments (billing around $5bn under the divisional title of Universal Media) were rebranded as Universal McCann in November. Australia, China, the Czech Republic, Germany, India, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland and Thailand subsequently underwent the same conversion process.

Initially Universal was set up primarily to manage the business of existing McCann advertising clients, rather than media-only accounts whose advertising was handled elsewhere. However during 2000, the pace of new business picked up considerably. The agency added a number of specialist units during 2000 and 2001. Among the most notable was the Universal McCann Entertainment Group which moved the agency back into television programming. UM brokered sponsorship for Coca-Cola of teen drama Young Americans, and attached several of its clients to a 2000 Christmas Special. In 2003 the agency was the first of the media majors to appoint a creative director, media and entertainment branding specialist Alan Schulman, to develop creative and strategic messages and formats for wireless, ITV and broadband media initiatives.

The agency was dealt a severe blow in late 2003 when key client Coca-Cola shifted its entire US media account, worth an estimated $350m, out of Universal McCann and into Publicis-owned Starcom MediaVest. A year later, Nestle moved its $400m media account as well, and the agency also lost several pieces of business across Europe for L'Oreal in 2005. GM Mediaworks, an independently branded unit within Universal McCann US, was shut down after it lost media buying duties for General Motors in 2005. Robin Kent, chairman & CEO of Universal McCann, left the agency abruptly in March 2005. Since than the network has fought hard to prevent further losses, and appeared to have regained some stability by 2006.

Last full revision 22nd March 2017

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