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By The Drum | Administrator

August 26, 2004 | 9 min read

David Shearer

It’s perhaps irrelevant where you are when you get a phone call on your mobile to tell you that your agency has won a piece of media business worth more than £12m a year, but it is preferable to be relatively close to a bottle of champagne, should such an instance occur.

Fortunately, when the mobile phone started ringing in the pocket of MediaCom Scotland’s Euan Jarvie to give him the news that the agency had pulled off what many considered to be the impossible, he was sitting outside a toy shop on the main street in Toulouse, France, where he was holidaying with his family.

After partaking of some grape-based refreshment, Jarvie called MediaCom’s Dock Place offices to break the news to director David Shearer. The following morning Jarvie and Shearer shared with the people at MediaCom the news that they had pulled off the media coup of the year.

If sales of Lypsyl have gone through the roof since that day it would be of little surprise, as Jarvie and his team have been forced to bite their lips and remain silent on the win until the Scottish Executive officially signed the deal off around ten days ago. In light of the unprecedented amount of speculation doing the rounds about the decision, this must have been tough. Even when spotted enjoying a drink with staff at The Lighthouse in Edinburgh on a sunny Thursday evening, Jarvie denied that they had anything to celebrate.

But shortly after the agency appointments were officially confirmed by the Scottish Executive Jarvie at last was able to break his silence.

“We are absolutely thrilled to have won this piece of business. It’s a huge win for us against insurmountable odds, really,” he says. “An organisation as important as the Scottish Executive does not take these kinds of decision lightly. The tender was very difficult and challenging, but we were all very realistic about it. Everybody here at MediaCom Scotland was involved in our submission; everybody had some input into it, from Lorna, our receptionist, right the way through to our senior people. I am thrilled for the people here because they all worked so hard.”

The £12m-plus Scottish Executive win caps off a year (or just over half a year actually) of success, which sees MediaCom Scotland’s record of growing 50 per cent every year and converting 90 per cent of pitches continuing. This year alone MediaCom Scotland has picked up £6m worth of other media business, including Base London, John R Weir, Texstyle World Home, the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and another £4m worth of business that, as yet, Jarvie cannot talk about. In the last year the agency also launched the new Mint card for the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Put into some financial context, and without including the Scottish Executive business, MediaCom Scotland will this year bill around £35m with a staff of 23. Once the Executive’s budget is added to that Jarvie says that the agency will be billing £50m.

Jarvie admits that the odds on MediaCom stealing the business away from Feather Brooksbank would have been long before the gladiators stepped into the pitching arena. But he maintains that the skills that his agency has developed since coming to Scotland less than seven years ago always put them in with a good chance, particularly as the Executive set a very level playing field, giving all the agencies involved a shot at success.

He says: “I have always been confident because we are a good operation. But I suppose I was a little surprised when I was told that we had won the business. It would have been naïve of us to expect that piece of business to come romping through the door just because we had put in a submission. But then again we are a very successful company and always have been growing since we came to Scotland. We have constantly brought in new pieces of business and that has meant we can bring in top quality people. We have also not lost a client in the last three years, which I think must say something about the people we have here at MediaCom.

“Ask any client why they stay with an agency and they will always say the same thing – it’s about the people. We have very good people here at all levels. We want to breed and keep the best talent we can and we can do that by moving people through the organisation in Scotland and the MediaCom national and international network.”

Indeed, Jarvie himself is renowned as a tough negotiator, and senior staff such as David Shearer, Euan Ross and Janette Harrison are all highly knowledgeable and respected figures within the media community. The agency also recently appointed David Tobin of MediaCom London as a board director to further strengthen its troops. All of these will be involved with the business in some way, but Jarvie acknowledges that additional support staff will be necessary.

“It would be naïve for us to think we will not need to take on more staff,” says Jarvie. “But, that said, we will run the business differently to the way it was run before, because our agency operates differently. We have a very senior level of people here who are more than able to handle this business. We might need to take on a few other people to work on the business, but this year we have added £6m worth of business, not including the Executive, so we have been bringing people in during the year.”

That said, Jarvie’s goal has never been to have 70 people sitting in his office. He says he will perhaps never have, or need, more than 35 people in Edinburgh and he will never employ people who have nothing to work on.

He says: “It is not about the quantity of people here at MediaCom. We will only ever buy in quality people because we are about quality, service and innovation. We believe that clients do not want to see lots of different people. They want to see someone they can trust, someone who can tackle their marketing problems and make them go away quickly and effectively.

Jarvie runs a tight ship at MediaCom Scotland, which was no doubt a factor with the Scottish Executive and the procurement department that was involved in the pitch this time around, much to the chagrin of many commentators.

He comments: “It would have been foolish to suggest that procurement would not have been involved in deciding who handled the Scottish Executive’s advertising before this review. Nowadays most pitches involve the procurement department of an organisation in some way. It’s prudent to do so. To suggest that the decision was on price only is strange. If the people suggesting this knew what the decision-making process was, which they could have done, then they would know that price was important but not the over-riding factor.

“Our primary objective at MediaCom is to deliver successful solutions. Media is changing and people have to accept that fact and get on with the business.

“Ultimately, this move should be seen as being good for Scotland and it should be good for the media industry in Scotland, which now has a number of strong media businesses. Feather Brooksbank is still very strong, despite losing this business, and Media Vision is doing very well in Edinburgh as is The Media Shop in Glasgow. Contrary to the popular point of view, the Scottish media scene is in a stronger place now than it has been for a while. To have two companies billing more than £50m in Scotland is fantastic and that has never been the case before.”

The handover of the Executive business between Feather Brooksbank and MediaCom started almost immediately. Due to the nature of advertising campaigns being planned months in advance, balls had to be picked up very quickly. This has suited Jarvie and his team. Ultimately, it means that they can begin what is perhaps the toughest, yet most underestimated part of any business handover – forging new relationships with the clients, which in this case are numerous, due to the Scottish Executive, VisitScotland, Health Scotland, Quality Meat Scotland, Historic Scotland and NHS 24 all coming together for the first time.

Jarvie says: “It takes time to build new relationships; they do not form overnight and we all understand that here. Our focus is on forming lasting relationships with clients, getting to know them, understanding their objectives and building strategies alongside them. One demonstration of this is that we have recently been named supplier of the year by the RBS Group for the second year running and that is across all of their suppliers, not just marketing services. That is a huge testament to our people, as that piece of business is extremely complex and demanding.

“The first three to six months of a new relationship is all about listening and listening hard. You have to listen and understand the issues the client faces and also understand what has gone before and obviously you have to work very quickly in the short term to keep the client on track.”

Despite winning what is considered the jewel in Scotland’s media crown, Jarvie’s feet are remaining firmly on the ground.

He says: “For us this is a fantastic new win. It does not affect us in any way, really, other than we believe it will make us the biggest single media operation in Scotland. Any new business win obviously gets you fired up. What gets me fired up is our people delivering for clients in areas they perhaps do not expect us to be able to deliver. That is what excites me about this particular piece of business. We are in a purple patch at the moment and are doing very well.”

So, as it turns out, when the MediaCom team was spotted at The Lighthouse the glasses of wine were of a celebratory nature. And in a show of allegiance the people at MediaCom London also headed to a nearby bar for a celebratory drink to toast MediaCom Scotland’s win. Jarvie says that he doesn’t want to get landed with that bar bill – they’d probably need another £12m win to be able to pay it.


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