Blue 449 was until recently the smaller of two challenger networks under the umbrella of Publicis Media, partnering main networks Starcom and Zenith and another, but larger, challenger Spark Foundry. It had offices in 18 markets by the beginning of 2019, mainly in Europe, but also the US, China, Australia and the Middle East. In 2019, though, Publicis announced the merger of the network into Spark Foundry, although outposts of Blue 449 will remain in the US, UK and France to resolve client conflicts. The original core of the network was Walker Media, previously the UK-only media planning and buying division of M&C Saatchi. That unit started life as a joint venture with Christine Walker, former head of Zenith Media UK, before it was bought outright by M&C in 2007. However, the agency began to come under increasing pressure as the UK's largest remaining independent. It suffered a blow with the loss of key account Barclays in 2011, and slipped out of the UK's Top Ten media agencies in 2013. Finally, M&C agreed to sell majority control of the agency at the end of 2013 to Publicis Groupe. (The French group only finally bought out M&C's remaining 25% stake in 2019). In 2015, Walker adopted the new name Blue 449, becoming the first outpost and global HQ for a new global media network. By late 2015, additional representation had been established in 15 other cities worldwide, including in Australia following the acquisition of local independent Match Media. In 2016, Publicis Groupe announced plans to split its existing ZenithOptimedia network. What was left of Optimedia was absorbed into what was initially called Optimedia Blue 449. The Optimedia brand was itself dropped at year's end. Andras Vigh, named as global president of Blue 449, departed the agency towards the end of 2018 and was not directly replaced.
Capsule checked 5th March 2019
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Adbrands Daily Update 5th Mar 2019: Blue 449's days may be numbered. Publicis announced the merger of that still-small network into its not-much-larger counterpart Spark Foundry. Both networks were formed from the break-up of ZenithOptimedia and Starcom MediaVest respectively. However, Blue 449 in particular has failed to establish a global personality. The brand will not disappear entirely: units of Blue 449 will remain in the US, UK and France to resolve local client conflicts, with their leaders reporting into the wider Spark Foundry network.
Adbrands Weekly Update 25th Jan 2018: Hard-pressed UK supermarket Asda called a review of its marketing business. This could pose a significant threat to Publicis Groupe, who took over the business in 2016 following the arrival at Asda of US exec Andy Murray, a former head of retail marketing agency Saatchi & Saatchi X. He shifted the business into Saatchi UK and Blue 449, but Asda has made little headway since then in regaining the #2 position in UK groceries. Clearly a new approach is needed. "We have been fortunate to have world class partners over this past year help us make great adverts, digital content, press and point of sale," said Murray. "We couldn't have achieved the turnabout in results in 2017 without their help. But we need to fundamentally change the way our ecosystem works to reach and engage customers differently than we do today."
Adbrands Weekly Update 22nd Dec 2016: Publicis Groupe has changed its plans regarding the rebranding of the recently divided Zenith and Optimedia media banners. The latter was to have been merged with challenger network Blue 449 to create Optimedia Blue 449. However, everyone has now realised that this is quite a mouthful, so the Optimedia name is to be dropped altogether in favour of plain and simple Blue 449. In all other respects, though, nothing changes, with the old Optimedia standalone outposts in the US and elsewhere now taking on the Blue 449 name.
Adbrands Weekly Update 14th Apr 2016: In a surprise development, Walmart's UK subsidiary Asda transferred its creative account back to Saatchi & Saatchi without a review, after three years at VCCP. At the same time, Carat was stripped of local media after a 20-year run in favour of Publicis-owned Blue 449, the former Walker Media. The decision follows the arrival of US executive Andy Murray - former founder of Saatchi & Saatchi's shopper marketing division X - to oversee marketing at the hard-pressed business, which recently surrendered its long-held position as #2 supermarket to rival Sainsbury's. Insiders said the coup by Publicis agencies proves the case for that group's move to encourage closer cooperation between its agencies by eliminating silos. According to Brand Republic, Asda's creative and media will be managed from the same office. A source told them, "Asda has bought an integrated proposition. Physical proximity between creative and media teams is what the client is looking for."
Adbrands Weekly Update 4th Jun 2015: With its new business record so far this year a little shaky and multiple media reviews to defend, Publicis Groupe made yet another move to bolster performance through acquisition. Latest addition to the portfolio is Australia's biggest remaining independent media agency Match Media, which is to become the local outpost of Blue 449, a newly created second-string network under the umbrella of ZenithOptimedia. The main hub of that business is the renamed Walker Media agency in London, with additional outposts in France and Italy. No price was disclosed for the Match Media deal; founder John Preston remains on-board as CEO, and in the short term the agency will retain its current name. For his part, Preston said the decision to sell was prompted by concerns that independents will struggle to compete with larger networks in areas of data and technology.
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