ZenithOptimedia new broom Tim Hipperson faces trial by BA and L’Oreal account reviews

Yesterday we noted the appointment of Nick Bailey as CEO of Aegis-owned Isobar, a rare case (these days anyway) of a creative becoming a CEO.

Another, rather more dramatic elevation occurred earlier this year at Publicis Groupe-owned media agency ZenithOptimedia when it hired former G2 Joshua boss Tim Hipperson (left) as CEO, replacing agency veteran Gerry Boyle who moved to chairman.

Hipperson’s background is in digital and what we used to call below-the-line rather than media so this, too, was a bold appointment.

And the new broom certainly has his work cut out: two of the agency’s biggest and hitherto most faithful clients British Airways and L’Oreal are reviewing their accounts.

L’Oreal is a UK-only review but, with a media budget of £80m plus, it’s certainly significant. British Airways, which tends to spend heavily for a while and then forget all about advertising, is presumably a global review as it’s hardly worth having a different media agency in the UK and the rest of the world.

ZenithOptimedia and BA go back a long way, to the days when the agency was just Zenith in fact.

Zenith was the first big agency-owned media ‘independent,’ if that’s not a contradiction in terms. In the 1970s various media types, fed up with being overshadowed by better-paid creatives and account people, broke away to set up – media independents. In the UK Paul Green was first with Media Buying Services and then came (in no particular order) Chris Ingram Associates, John Ayling Associates, Ray Morgan & Partners. and The Media Department (TMD) among others.

TMD was actually originally formed by an agency group called Kimpher but when that collapsed went its own way.

The rise of these mavericks led to the fracturing of the agency commission system (15 per cent for TV, ten per cent for press) and blew a gaping wound in agency finances that has never been fully staunched.

The then all-conquering Saatchi & Saatchi (Charles, Maurice, Tim Bell etc) decided it wanted a slice of this action and bought Ray Morgan’s company (Morgan was a former highly-respected media director of Benton & Bowles, a now defunct agency that once had the honour of employing our contributor George Parker).

The brothers moved RMP and most of the Saatchi media department into a shed in Paddington and overnight created the biggest not-so-independent media independent – and called it Zenith. And, at the time, its biggest client was British Airways.

And BA’s media account has stayed with Zenith (in all its guises) ever since even though the creative account moved to M&C Saatchi (now divorced from Saatchi & Saatchi) and then to BBH.

So BA is big stuff for the current ZenithOptimedia even though its spending yo-yos. Big-spending L’Oreal is just big.

It’s clearly unfair to lay these reviews solely at Hipperson’s door, he only arrived in April. But his ability to make the transition to media agency boss will be sorely tested in these reviews by some of UK medialand’s most seasoned and ruthless performers.

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About Stephen Foster

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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.