Pity poor Zenith. What should have been the jewel in the crown of
two mighty agency networks became the unloved progeny of two confused
and self-obsessed advertising minnows more interested in their own
bitter wranglings than in nurturing their media offspring.
When Saatchi & Saatchi split from Cordiant in 1997, Zenith found itself
unhappily divided 50:50 between the two. Now that Saatchis has succumbed
to the charms of Mr Levy’s Publicis, Zenith’s parentage becomes even
more complex. And though there are no triggers in place to amend
Zenith’s ownership if either parent’s status alters, you can bet that
change is top of Zenith’s wishlist after years of neglect.
Zenith - still the biggest media agency in what is undoubtedly one of
the world’s best media markets, the UK - is now floundering at the arse
end of the global top ten league tables. This despite a head start and
the strength of its worldwide management (headed by Brits - another
obvious plus when you consider that some of the string-pullers behind
other media networks have no media business credentials).
The truth is that Saatchis and Cordiant have failed Zenith, and it
failed miserably. Though the two agencies combined now account for
around a third of Zenith’s global revenues, they take between them
around 75 per cent of Zenith’s profits (two-thirds of which falls into
Saatchis’ coffers) in dividends.
And the recent fortunes of Saatchis and Cordiant have been such that
neither have been supplying Zenith with a steady stream of new
In fact, word in the US is that relations between Zenith and Cordiant
have hit a particularly tricky patch over the assignment of some of
Cordiant’s media business. Mind you, while Saatchis has been fattening
itself up for a sale, Cordiant has been developing itself as a rounded
marketing services company, which has at least spurred its enthusiasm
for a strong media partner.
Zenith is now a dollars 7.4 billion-billing business, but one
desperately in need of a merger with another media network if it is to
do justice to its UK heritage on the global media stage (even in Europe
Zenith’s network is patchy; the agency ranks only at number ten in
France, for example).
Publicis’ Optimedia would not do the trick, even if Cordiant was
agreeable to some sort of joint media holding company.
What Zenith needs is a new owner (just the one would be nice). An owner
that recognises that media is an area ripe for investment. An owner that
understands the business and culture of media, the urgencies of scale
and the potential to put media at the communications axis. Mind you,
that little list seems to rule out a fair portion of the global agency
Perhaps it’s time to resurrect those Aegis rumours.
This article was first published on Campaign