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Wavemaker

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Wavemaker is the WPP-owned media agency formed in 2017 from the merger of the old MEC network and smaller sibling Maxus. MEC, itself previously known by the mouthful of Mediaedge:cia, was one of several media networks within WPP, partnering Mindshare and MediaCom, and sitting under the overall umbrella of GroupM. It was formed from the merger in 2002 of The Media Edge, previously a division of Young & Rubicam, with highly regarded Eurocentric media agency CIA, acquired by WPP earlier that year. The complicated Mediaedge:cia tag was officially dropped in 2010 in favour of initials MEC. After a strong decade in the 2000s, performance in the 2010s was rather more bumpy, especially in the US. Global performance was lifted considerably in 2014 by the capture of the consolidated $1bn Vodafone mobile account, MEC's biggest gain for several years. However, the loss of AT&T that year was a serious blow, and in 2017, WPP announced the merger of MEC with smaller sibling Maxus under the new name. The first few months of Wavemaker's existence, though, have been deeply troubled, marked by a succession of departing clients with combined billings well over $1bn. Nevertheless, COMvergence still ranked Wavemaker as the world's #5 media agency in 2019 with billings of $12.6bn.

Clients

Click here for a Wavemaker client listing from Adbrands Account Assignments

Competitors

See the Leading Media Agency Brands worldwide

Brands & Activities

Newly consolidated Wavemaker currently has operations in 82 countries. Its predecessor MEC originally claimed to be the first "active engagement" agency, offering not just media planning and buying but global communications planning and implementation. It promised to get consumers actively engaged with client brands, "leading to relevant awareness, deeper relationships and stronger sales". As of 2012 its mission statement was "To be our clients' most valuable business partner, famous for inspiring people and exceptional results." All media networks make similar claims, but MEC was especially diligent in adding non-traditional planning-related services to its general offering, arguably offering a more finely targeted service than its two bigger sisters within GroupM.

Following several significant client losses in the US, not least the cornerstone AT&T account and also KFC, WPP announced plans to merge MEC with sister network Maxus under a new name. That was eventually revealed in Sept 2017 as Wavemaker. Most local offices were operating under the Wavemaker name by the end of Jan 2018.

The first few months of Wavemaker's existence were difficult. Rather like the problems experienced by Publicis Groupe with its realignment of Starcom MediaVest and ZenithOptimedia in 2015, Wavemaker was suddenly hit in 2017 and early 2018 by a flood of account reviews, as clients took the opportunity to reconsider their position. Although there were a number of retentions and indeed some new account wins, these were overshadowed by a string of major defections.

Up until the merger, MEC's performance had been generally sound but unspectacular for most of the late 2000s and early 2010s, up until a sharp downturn after 2015. No year was as impressive as 2007, when MEC was awarded the consolidated $2.4bn AT&T account in the US, backed up by Macy's, worth $500m and the global Paramount Pictures business ($250m). As a result, Mediaedge:cia (as it was then known) was named as Global Media Agency Network of the Year by AdAge and Adweek, and as the UK Media Agency of the Year by Campaign and Marketing. There were some speed bumps in 2011 and 2012, though, including the departure of Macy's as well as a few other important clients. Vodafone was an important $1bn win in 2014. For 2016, Advertising Age estimated global revenues for MEC of $1.0bn, including $235m (24%) in the US. However that figure was decimated in 2017 by the loss once more of AT&T and also KFC.

For most of the 2000s, Europe remained MEC's core region, thanks to the heritage of CIA. The network was ranked #2 out of the 12 main networks across Europe as a whole, and was especially strong in Italy, Spain and the UK, where the local office topped the new business rankings for both 2007 and 2008. It didn't quite manage that feat in 2009, but avoided the loss of a single client. Partly as a result, it was named as media agency of the year for the third consecutive year by both Marketing and Campaign, and was the first media agency ever to win the IPA Effectiveness of the Year award for its work for Morrisons. However another key client, Specsavers, departed in 2012, and Chanel transferred its account to a centralised team within WPP to which MEC contributes. In 2016, local billings for MEC UK were £668m according to Nielsen (in Campaign). Key clients included Vodafone, Morrisons, BGL Group and Beiersdorf. For 2016, the agency's UK corporate entity, then still known as Mediaedge:cia UK Ltd, reported turnover (billings) of almost £498m, down marginally on the year before but more sharply from the £615m reported in 2014. Revenue for 2016 rose 14% to £49m, but net profit slipped 25% to £7.8m. All revenues were generated in the UK, and there were an average of 464 staff.

MEC had also served as the parent for a number of diversified service agencies. In 2007, three other group units offering sports & entertainment sponsorship and cause marketing (MEC Sponsorship, The Leverage Group and SponsorCom, formerly a MediaCom unit) were merged into a single unit under the name MEC Access. MEC Interaction is now the umbrella for all the network's digital, search, mobile and direct marketing media operations. All were folded into the main Wavemaker offering.

Among the network's other separately branded units is Nota Bene, a communications planning specialist in South Africa, which is also among the country's most admired shops.

In 2003 MEC absorbed the media planning and buying operations and staff of sister agency Wunderman in 12 major territories including the US, operating initially under the name Wunderman:media. This unit was transferred into the expanded MEC Interaction group in 2005. Search marketing agency Outrider was originally held within Mediaedge:cia, but later folded into the main groupM umbrella company.

Background

The Media Edge was originally formed in 1994 as a standalone unit of NW Ayer, led by Beth Gordon, to manage AT&T's $330m buying business. The agency operated as a media independent although ownership remained with what was then Ayer's parent company, Adcom. In 1996, Ayer was acquired by MacManus Group, and The Media Edge was put up for sale. In the resulting bidding war, Young & Rubicam came up tops, paying a modest $3.5m for the agency. A year later, The Media Edge began to absorb Y&R's existing North American media operations. In 1998, when Y&R went public, the format was rolled out worldwide across 25 other countries, in most cases by rebranding existing Y&R media departments.

In some European markets, Y&R was already a shareholder in local offices of Mediapolis, the fledgling media network of Euro RSCG. That relationship was gradually dismantled following the merger of Mediapolis with Media Planning, and the two partners split the various local outposts between them. The Mediapolis offices in Italy, Czech Republic and Hungary became The Media Edge, while Media Planning took over the UK, France and Polish operations. In 1999, all US and international operations were amalgamated as a single operating division, under Beth Gordon's command.

Meanwhile, Young & Rubicam was also involved in tentative merger negotiations with CIA, then an independent media network owned by Chris Ingram's Tempus group. No deal took place, although the two companies joined forces in Germany, with Tempus acquiring a large minority stake in Media Edge's local office there. A year later in 2000, Y&R itself became an acquisition target, snapped up by WPP. A liaison with CIA came back on the agenda in 2001 as a result of WPP's interruption of the agreed merger of Tempus and Media Planning Group. WPP made it clear at the outset of its hostile bid for Tempus that its intention was to combine the two businesses. Despite a temporary change of heart by Martin Sorrell following the September 11th attacks, the takeover was successful and two companies were merged towards the end of 2001. This caused a few client conflicts, not least in Germany where The Media Edge represented the toothpaste brands of Colgate-Palmolive, while CIA handled rival manufacturer Henkel. The situation was resolved when the group agreed to maintain two separate offices to handle each account.

The newly formed MediaEdge:CIA began 2002 with another acquisition, of small UK media shop Purely Media, based in Manchester, and later acquired leading Italian independent Media Club. It also strengthened its operations in Spain by acquiring a 49% shareholding in local agency Focus Media in 2004. In MEC sealed a deal to acquire a 49% shareholding in Fiat Media Centre, the inhouse planning and buying unit of Fiat Group. That deal was completed in 2006, at which point Fiat Media Centre was rebranded as MC2 Mediacommunication.

Last full revision 28th March 2018

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