Agency Profile: ZenithMedia

There’s hot, there’s smoking, and there’s Zenith Media, which is on fire these days. Since the beginning of last year, the media specialist has added more than $1 billion in billings from clients including United Airlines, Schering-Plough, Georgia-Pacific, and General Mills. These additions have helped grow Zenith into one of the five largest media agencies in the U.S., according to the latest Ad Age rankings.

That growth is one indication of how powerful media agencies have become in their own right since their beginnings as handmaidens to the agencies that spawned them. The two agencies that created Zenith in 1995 — Saatchi & Saatchi and Bates — are not currently considered powerhouses in the vastly restructured agency landscape. Now 75% owned by Saatchi owner Publicis Groupe and 25% owned by Bates parent Cordiant Communications Group, the company is intent on charting its own path.

"It would take me 45 minutes to explain why we have been so successful in winning new business," says Rich Hamilton, CEO of Zenith Optimedia Group, The Americas. "There is no formulaic approach that is used by Zenith to win new business. Each win is unique for us because each client’s needs are different. What we are very skilled at is bringing our clients ‘outcomes’ that are relevant and differentiated. We listen to clients to learn what their business is and provide them with superior work that they haven’t seen anywhere else."

Hamilton, who oversees Zenith Media in the U.S. and Publicis-owned Optimedia in the U.S. and Canada, joined Zenith in 1997 following a 22-year career at the ad agency DMB&B, where he directed media operations in North America. He is a member of the 4As Media Policy Committee and a former director of the Audit Bureau of Circulation and Advertising Information Services, Inc. Hamilton also sits on the Media Steering Committee of the Partnership for a Drug-Free Greater New York.

Zenith’s arrival in the mid-1990s signaled the beginning of media unbundling in the U.S. agency marketplace. Unlike the full-service agencies of the past, Zenith would provide only media planning, buying, evaluation, and coordination services to advertisers and advertising agencies. "We work with dozens of creative and full-service agencies," says Hamilton, "and do joint pitches all the time with Saatchi and Bates. About 60% of our business comes from these two agencies, and the rest comes from a variety of shops outside our network."

Today Zenith, headquartered in New York City, has 11 offices throughout the country serviced by a staff of more than 350 people, and 2001 billings of $5.3 billion, spent on local broadcast (43%), national broadcast (39%), print (14%), out of home (3%), and the Internet (1%). Zenith Media clients include Verizon, Toyota/Lexus, Darden Restaurants, ExxonMobil, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Best Foods, PaineWebber, and Allied Domecq. "We have clients in almost every market sector," says Hamilton, "although we would like to add computer and entertainment clients to our roster in 2002."

Zenith tries to stave off the perception that it is simply another media agency in a commoditized industry by building a corporate culture that will help it differentiate itself from its competitors. A core agency principle is that staffers listen to clients, a building block of any agency-client relationship. In fact, it is one of Zenith’s Eight Commitments to Excellence, which are imparted to each employee during training at Zenith University. Some of the other commitments are to hire, train, nurture, and retain the best people; execute consistently superior media strategies, ideas, and marketplace solutions tailored to brand needs; build state-of-the-art systems; be sensitive to brand and creative agency needs; and negotiate aggressively but retain a commitment to "win-win" with suppliers. "A copy of the Eight Commitments to Excellence sits on the wall outside my office," said Hamilton. "They act as an internal guidepost to help define relationships with our clients. This organization delivers ‘outcomes’ built on trust. It is an approach that is focused on service, not servitude, which is the essence of our eighth commitment — build trust as a foundation of long-term partnership."

Zenith is also an industry leader in the publishing of annual marketplace forecasts and guides and the creating of media planning and research tools, such as one of the first optimizers. That proprietary technology system and analytics package, known as the ZOOM suite (Zenith Optimization Of Media), encompasses more than 60 tools to help clients optimize their buys. They include Excalibur, which determines optimal media pressure levels; Wizard, which performs TV brand optimizations to maximize reach and frequency; and Persistence, which measures the effect of viewing length on ad recall. "This suite is just one part of the multimillions of dollars we spend on research," continues Hamilton. "Being able to make more informed decisions is one of the elements that help us achieve the ‘outcomes’ for our clients."

A good example of a Zenith "outcome" is what the agency accomplished for Toyota/Lexus dealers. Toyota Motor Sales needed to coordinate 100 factory markets, 85 dealer markets, 15 Lexus factory markets, and 145 Lexus dealer markets across the U.S., and Zenith Media was charged with managing the consolidated local media buying.

To accomplish this, Zenith developed a local spot strategy to commence negotiations in advance of the upfront and scatter marketplace. Zenith’s goals were to achieve a savings of 10% or more, improve purchased program quality, hold rates for scatter dollars as long as possible, and provide added value packages and cross-media promotions. They combined the buying clout of all brands under one umbrella regardless of demo, number of brands, flight dates, and planning contacts.

In just eight weeks, Zenith’s upfront negotiations in 141 markets produced more than 3,000 schedules. The outcome was that cost per points was reduced by more than 10% and placement in premium shows was increased eightfold.

Managing Editor Adam Herman can be reached at

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