Can CHI grow a big media business?

In its brief career London agency Clenmow Hornby Inge has done little wrong and a lot right, including trousering £30m from Sir Martin Sorrell’s WPP for a 49 per cent stake.

But the jury is still out on its attempt to create a full service offering through the addition of media business, MCHI.

Now it’s hired former National Magazines MD Jessica Burley as MCHI’s first CEO. CHI founder Johnny Hornby has said that he wants to grow “a proper, big media business” but, to date, MCHI still looks dependent on ever-loyal client Carphone Warehouse.

MCHI uses the WPP buying operation Magna for the heavy lifting so you have to ask what the rest of the operation brings to the party apart from fancy activities like ‘strategy’ and attempts to create content, an activity that has still to really deliver for either creative or media agencies despite about a decade of trying.

You can see the attraction of bringing media (or some of it) back in house of course. In the good old days, actually rather ancient days, full service agencies used to enjoy a whopping 15 per cent commission on all media billings, which allowed them to pay massive salaries and chuck in activities like market research and PR for nothing.

Then the under-regarded helots in the media department broke away to form their own media specialists and clients suddenly realised they didn’t have to pay all that money.

So can Hornby, Burley and co turn the clock back? Or some of the way at least?

It’s a tough ask. Not least because shareholder WPP accounts for about a third of all UK media billings through its various media shops (including MediaCom and O&M Media) and might not take kindly to MCHI’s small but perfectly-formed tanks on its lawn.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.