Strategy’s 2000 Best Media Operation: Gold: The Media Edge

The Media Edge has been on a tear of late....

The Media Edge has been on a tear of late.

Over the last year, the media management company – which handles media planning and buying for Toronto-based Young & Rubicam – has experienced double-digit growth, says Bruce Grondin, senior vice-president, national media director.

With annual billings of $460 million, up from $410 million last year, and $320 million in 1998, the company is one of Canada’s largest media buying concerns.

But the firm’s growth hasn’t only been measured in billings. With the win of Molson Breweries’ media business in March, Grondin says The Media Edge took over an entire floor within its Toronto-based premises.

‘That was the biggest milestone for us this year. We now have our own identity, our own branding outside in the lobby. We are seen as a separate company now,’ he says.

Just two years after Young & Rubicam spun off its media operation into a distinct entity, The Media Edge has taken top honours in Strategy’s Best Media Operation survey, placing first overall in a confidential poll of Canadian media sellers.

With offices in Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and Halifax, The Media Edge caters to a long list of blue-chip clients including Ford Motor Company of Canada, Colgate-Palmolive Canada, AT&T Canada, Gap, Mazda Canada, Volvo Canada and Molson.

While exponential growth is all well and good, Grondin says it has underscored a serious challenge being felt not only by The Media Edge, but also by the media management industry as a whole: finding good people.

The fact is, says Grondin, the industry has been losing first-rate media professionals to the sexier and better-paying new media and television businesses.

In an effort to combat the trend, The Media Edge has established a program whereby it will meet with promising candidates on an informal basis – even when the company’s not hiring. It’s a way to keep the lines of communication open, he says.

‘In a lot of places, media is seen as not a very sexy part of the business,’ says Grondin. ‘We have to re-examine our whole industry – get the pay scale up, charge more for the services we do for our clients because it’s worth more – so that we can make it more attractive.’

The ‘media-as-backroom-function’ mind-set is slowly beginning to change, he adds – and more and more, it’s happening from the inside out.

‘We’re now acting like we’re leaders, where before we were acting like we were a secondary department within a full-service agency. We have gained confidence in ourselves.’

That’s due in large part, Grondin says, to the explosion of media choices and the corresponding importance of media research.

‘Because we can be so much more targeted now – with things like specialty networks – we are able to get very specific in terms of the vehicles, and suggest to the client, for example, that they do two pieces of creative: one for The Sports Network and one for MuchMusic,’ he says.

Grondin says his company’s media plan for Molson Export exemplifies the kind of out-of-the-box thinking now demanded by clients. The tongue-in-cheek ‘Had Ex today?’ campaign, targeted at males 19-24, launched at Hooters restaurant, will include a television sponsorship of the movie Striptease, the sponsored introduction of The Man Show on The Comedy Network, and a partnership with Blind Date, running on Citytv. The latter will also feature an online contest.

‘We can now solve a client’s problem, and know how to get a media strategy to [mesh] with a marketing strategy,’ says Grondin. ‘After that, it’s hiring someone to develop the creative.’

Clients, too, are beginning to appreciate the importance of media. ‘As clients’ budgets continue to grow, they’re seeing it as much more of an investment, not an expense,’ he says.

Grondin expects that over the coming year, more and more advertisers will consolidate their media planning and buying with one company, in the same way as Molson and Unilever have done.

As for growth opportunities, Grondin says his team hopes to leverage its experience buying sports properties on behalf of clients such as Ford, Molson and AT&T to drum up new business, perhaps with sporting goods companies, he adds. The Media Edge currently spends around $80 million in sports media.

Also on the horizon is continued consolidation within the media industry as a whole. Of the spate of recent mergers and acquisitions, Grondin suspects the only one that will have a direct impact on media buyers will be CanWest Global Communication’s purchase this past summer of eight conventional television stations from WIC. The deal gives CanWest Global unprecedented clout in the Ontario marketplace. Fortunately, Grondin says The Media Edge has always had a good relationship with the network, which will prove crucial as the deal plays itself out.

The fact that The Media Edge is among the top five media management companies in Canada bodes well for its future, Grondin says. Clients are beginning to realize that if they’re not with one of the big buyers who carry that much more clout, they’ll be left behind.

And while there’s hope for the smaller shops, he says, it’s only from a planning perspective, not from a media buying perspective.

‘For one thing, the cost of research and the amount of research

we are getting on a daily or annual basis is astronomical. Smaller places could not afford this,’ says Grondin.

Convergence hit close to home this year for The Media Edge, when Young & Rubicam was purchased in May by U.K.-based WPP Group, making Y&R a sister agency to J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather.

For now, The Media Edge remains a distinct brand, but industry insiders have speculated that it might eventually be merged with MindShare Canada, the media management operation for JWT, Ogilvy & Mather and Enterprise Creative Selling.

‘There are discussions going on, but as of yet, I have not been involved in any with regard to Canada,’ he says. ‘We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.’

Also in this report:

- Silver: M2 Universal p.81

- Bronze: MindShare Canada p.84

- Best Media Operation, Quebec: Bos p.94

- Best Media Director: Hugh Dow, M2 Universal p.96

- How we identified the winners p.100