MediaVest and Manchester
“We still remain very proud of the fact we’re a very successful north west-based business.” Lucas says. “We’re proud of the fact that we’re a big employer in the Manchester area.
“But, talking to a number of people in the industry, there was a view that having Manchester upfront in our name almost pigeonholed us.”
Lucas is Manchester born and bred and clearly proud of his roots. He stresses that having Manchester in the agency’s name had never held it back – evidenced by MediaVest becoming the first agency outside of London to reach £200m in turnover – but he maintains it’s time to move on.
“We’re not hiding our roots or heritage. It’s just a refocus of what we want our clients to concentrate on, especially new clients. We want them to look at what we can deliver rather than just seeing a geographical marker.”
The old name might have had a regional connotation, but there is nothing parochial about Manchester’s MediaVest. The two partners sit relaxed – both in manner and attire – in the plush, airy surrounds of the agency’s office on the city’s bustling Portland Street. They exude the sort of confidence where they would seem quite at home in any boardroom, no matter how high-powered.
Together, Jeal and Lucas launched MediaVest in 1994. It started with “just a handful” of people in Manchester, and has now grown to accommodate 198 staff in that office alone with an offshoot in Leeds, (still MediaVest Leeds, for the foreseeable future) and a tie-in with MediaVision in Scotland.
Given that in 1994 the internet was just for nerds and mobile phones were still as big as bricks, a rapidly changing media landscape has been the backdrop to MediaVest’s development.
“You have to work a lot harder to understand the media landscape today than you did 14 years ago,” Jeal explains. “It’s become much more diverse and we have to invest our money in more routes to market.
“The difficult thing now is understanding what your target consumer is doing between the hours of getting up in the morning and going to bed at night. Today we’re making more decisions in terms of mixing media.”
And this ‘mixing of media’ has seen the rapid growth of the company’s digital division, which seems to be heading for a turnover in excess of £20m.
Jeal articulates his agency’s media solutions with the same measured proficiency demonstrated by Lucas when talking through the agency’s new branding. There are some things though, which even the most careful of strategists can’t plan for.
Ready for a change
For example, two directors, Nick Cross and Paul Catlow, left the team earlier this year. Both left to pursue other interests outside of media having been with the agency for over 10 years. “It was completely amicable,” Lucas says, “we bought their shares so they’ve done very well out of it. I think they were just ready for a change.”
And then of course there was Northern Rock. When the bank went bump at the back end of last year, all eyes turned to its roster of agencies. Among them sat MediaVest Manchester.
Seeing a notable client self-destruct quite as publicly as Northern Rock would, you’d imagine, be a depressing blow to any agency boss, but MediaVest’s partners remain steadfastly unmoved.
“We had early indications from Northern Rock that it was business as usual, so we were fairly comforted by that from early on,” Jeal assures.
“With the move into nationalisation there was a little bit of uncertainly as to what budgets were going to be like. But we were always fairly confident that Northern Rock was going to see it through in some form.”
While Jeal remains guarded about what the future holds with the now-nationalised Northern Rock, the bank’s promise to invest significantly in marketing to reinvigorate its brand is clearly cause for relief.
But while MediaVest looks to have come through the Northern Rock storm relatively unscathed, it did take at least one big hit last winter. BGL, operator of nine insurance brands including Dial Direct and comparethemarket.com, moved its £30m media planning and buying account out of MediaVest and into London’s ZenithOptimedia.
Lucas plays down the loss, “I think everyone swallowed the £30m headline on that. BGL had a turnover through us which was about £4.5m. Yes, they’re spending more heavily this year, but they didn’t last year.
“Any loss is regrettable and we try to avoid them at all costs,” he adds, “but it wasn’t the huge loss that it was painted to be, although it was a lost opportunity because they’re spending more now.”
At the time of BGL’s departure, industry speculation was rife as to how MediaVest would maintain the sterling progress that had seen it hit the £200m landmark. Lucas shrugs off this with a harrumph, “We’ve had no significant agency-threatening losses at all. You don’t put all your eggs in one basket, do you?”
Lucas points to the agency not relying on any huge clients to boost turnover figures and says MediaVest’s success has been the product of its business being spread. “It’s a healthy position to be in. You don’t want to be, from a business continuity perspective, relying on two or three pieces of business,” he explains.
It’s easy to see how Lucas can brush off the BGL loss when he points to figures showing a growth in turnover to £220m in the last financial year. Still, there must be something provoking the need for a reported £50,000 worth of new branding.
Well, the pair are keen to quantify the worth of the branding. Out of it they have a new name, the ‘Get Great Results’ slogan, website and imagery. And it positions MediaVest well away from “looking like a firm of accountants,” which, says Jeal, is a trap too many media specialists fall into.
It will help in attracting clients, they say, and the pair hope the branding will also help them when it comes to the tricky task of recruitment. Finding people with the desired skillset is a tough ask, according to Lucas, so the business has invested heavily in graduate recruitment. Still, it has its problems.
“The one problem with the rest of the market is that [other agencies] don’t actively invest in training and development and staff, and therefore don’t add to the talent pool as much as we do,” Lucas says.
“The frustration is that our competitors understand the life cycle of our training and are more than happy to try and poach people at the end of it,” he adds ruefully. The new-look MediaVest, which Jeal says shows-off the agency’s facets as a rewarding and creative place to work, is intended to help redress this dearth of talent.
The strategy of investing in graduates shows that Jeal and Lucas have a long-term plan and haven’t simply rested on the laurels that saw them lay down the £200m marker last year. Ask them what the next part of the plan involves and there is no hesitation.
“£300m,” one of them says. It doesn’t matter which one, because the agency’s future is something the pair have clearly carefully pored over together. Lucas clarifies that they are “very confident” MediaVest will hit ambitious growth targets sans Manchester.
They might bill it as not dropping Manchester, but they are certainly letting it go.
And if the Manchester name’s only value was sentimental, Jeal and Lucas, too concerned with plotting the business’s future, certainly won’t waste their time on a wake. MediaVest Manchester is dead, long live MediaVest.