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[March 10, 2014]


(City A.M. (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) IN 1988, Zenith Media merged with the buying arms of Saatchi & Saatchi, KHBB, and BSB Dorland, forming what many consider to be the world's first truly global media agency. By 2000, the group (now called ZenithOptimedia) had repositioned itself as the "return on investment agency". Belinda Rowe joined the firm - part of Publicis - from Australia in 2010, and is now UK chair and global managing partner. She talks to City A.M. about staying relevant in an everchanging media landscape.

ZenithOptimedia calls itself the "return on investment agency". What does this mean? We were the first media agency to apply the rigorous, objective, data-driven approach to marketing communications that the industry is now so fixated on, and this still sits at the heart of what we do. However, we've now elevated our approach to a strong, strategic communications service that is fuelled by live data. This of course provides rational proof to clients to justify their spending, but live consumer data has enabled us to move into several important new areas, such as content.

You came to the UK from Australia. Did anything about the UK marketing industry surprise you? London has such a history of powerful advertising. I think the UK also leads the world in strategic thinking - something that is key to producing better work. Australia obviously has a lot of creative talent, but London has a depth that gives it the advantage. And from London, you can talk to Asia in the morning and then the US in the evening, which gives us a global reach.

The other thing is that the TV and broadcast industry here seems to be a lot more careful in managing the relationship between content and advertising. In Australia, they'll take sponsorship as long as the price is right, whether or not it's a good fit. The TV industry here is very careful about how it marries its sponsorship and programming content. There has to be the right fit for the brand and the programme, which is beneficial for the viewer.

The increasing use of data has been one of the most prominent trends in buying and planning recently. How will this develop over the next few years? I think the big opportunity is still around targeting, specifically mass personalisation. Clients need targeted campaigns, but they need this in large volumes. New technologies like Sky AdSmart can help with this. The thing is to be able to use data around what people are watching, and how they're engaging with different mediums, so we can bring them the relevant content.

ZenithOptimedia is one of the oldest global media agencies. What's the secret to navigating the ever-changing media landscape? I think it's a couple of things. You always have to keep thinking about the future - stay one step ahead. This involves plenty of forecasting and thought leadership pieces. We think this gives us vital fuel in order to advise advertisers, and also to design what the agency should look like in the years ahead.

But you also have to remember that we work in a people business, so we spend a lot of time making sure we're attracting the right talent to suit where we want to be in the future. At the moment, we're working on becoming a new kind of full-service comms company, and we've been investing in talent in data analytics, content, and digital so we can advise our clients in an even broader sense.

What's the one campaign you wish you'd worked on? One of the most innovative I've seen is the Dumb Ways to Die campaign, promoting rail safety in Melbourne, Australia. It was a big award winner, and showed how you can get into popular culture to reach children. It combined information and entertainment, and used education to solve a social problem. And we all love working with CompareTheMarket. It's such a fantastic opportunity; so creative and engaging.

@LIAMWARDPROUD (c) 2014 City A.M.

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