Analysis: Online Media Agencies

Internet advertising in the UK will soon be worth £1bn a year. Raymond Snoddy pinpoints the key players
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The Independent Online

Agency Republic,

Owned by the US marketing giant Omnicom, Agency Republic is very much an online advertising agency but emphasises the importance of bringing both creative and media buying in-house, and therefore differs in approach from rivals such as Glue and Dare. "By putting it all in-house, we can effectively own 100 per cent of the results and get much better work out because we have the two things working together," says the chief executive Martin Brooks.

Agency Republic's top clients include 02, the BBC, Egg and Diageo.


Andrew Walmsley, founder of the independent I-Level, describes it as a media buying-focused business. "We don't do creative. We do everything necessary to drive customers to a website." That involves handling everything from search and affiliate partners to media planning and buying online. I-Level advises clients such as BSkyB, Orange and the AA how to optimise their positions in the search rankings. "For some of our clients, we are managing 5,000 key words and they are constantly changing. Search is a substantial part of our business."


This is unusual, because it is not a trading company; it is a management vehicle set up by the media buying group Aegis to tap into the digital world. "We needed something to focus more on digital, to grow as fast as we could and also acquire business around the world," says Isobar's managing director in the UK, Robert Horler. Within Isobar UK are companies such as web development agency Diffiniti, and the Glue London agency bought in a £14m acquisition. Further acquisitions are planned. Already, 13 per cent of Aegis revenues come from digital media.


Manchester-based interactive operation owned by McCann Erickson, the international advertising group which is part of IPG. David Crawford, is head of interactive at McCann-I, whose clients include American Airlines, Peugeot and Scholl.

The company says it has 25 people who are all specialists in various facets of interactive communications. "Because of the mobile nature of the channel and the user experience it's still two-way and it's also about the customer driving the communications," says Crawford.

Media Contacts,

The digital media arm of Media Planning Group (MPG), part of the French company Havas.

Apart from the mainstream digital area, Media Contacts also undertakes direct marketing and data work for MPG.

Managing director John McLoughlin says Media Contacts is the only agency in the UK which owns its own data warehousing, a system called Artemis.

The agency won a large slice of business this year from National Lottery operators Camelot. Media Contacts' other clients include Pricerunner and P&O Ferries.

Modem Media,

Norm Johnston, Modem chief executive in the UK says the company was the first interactive agency when it was set up in the US in 1987 and put the first banner ad on the web. The UK business was start-ed in 1998.

"The internet is our core competency: it's in our DNA. It's what we do," says Johnston. Modem's clients include General Motors, GlaxoSmithKline and the Royal Bank of Scotland.

"Offline dollars are going into search where you only pay if you engage," says the Modem Media chief executive.


Also based in Manchester and part of a large group - Publicis. Most of its business comes from media planning and buying and its major clients include My Travel, Alliance & Leicester and Next Directory.

MVI, whose managing director is young philosophy graduate Elliot Muscant, was spun out of MediaVest Manchester in 2003. Launched in 2000, it has expanded to a team of 25 specialists.

The agency says its approach is to combine multi-channel planning with specialist digital marketing expertise.

Online Media Group,

Another independent, based in Norwich, OMPG has made something of a speciality in working for consumer financial organisations such as Norwich Union, MBNA and First Direct, although it also represents supermarket group Sainsbury's.

OMG specialises in "affiliate marketing" distributing advertising across the sites of thousands of different web-site publishers such as online football club fanzines. The company pays a commission for business generated for credit card operators, for example.


Wayne Arnold the co-founder of Profero says the company was the first digital independent when it was set up nearly eight years ago.

Arnold who founded the company with his brother Daryl says Profero was the only independent which believed from day one that you had to merge media and creative talent.

Profero is also unusual in its geographic spread. The company, whose clients include Buena Vista International, the COI, Apple and Avis, also operates in continental Europe and Asia, and it recently added offices in China and Japan.


Part of Tequila Worldwide, which has 48 offices in 33 countries and is also ultimately part of Omnicom. The UK operation reports into another part of Omnicom the TWMA advertising business. Tequila/London specialises in managing the customer relationship online for clients that include the Army, Abbey and News Group International. Chief executive Tim Bonnet sees online as part of a wider communications mix that also includes integrating such methods of communication as direct mail and events.


Wheel is a "full service" digital agency owned by the global interactive group LB Icon. It covers everything from marketing to designing websites. Chief executive Philip Hunt believes that "only by doing it across the whole piste", including improving websites can you have the knowledge needed to give clients such as BT and Marks & Spenceradvice. Sometimes Wheel says it has to advise clients not to spend more money because the performance of the sites involved are so poor. In such cases straightforward advertising would make more sense.

Zed Media,

Another interactive offshoot of a large marketing and advertising company, in this case the French group Publicis.

Planning director Kevin Murphy says "a really great one" was their campaign for BMW's launch of its Series 1 car which included sneak previews of the new car before it was seen on any other medium.

Zed says it has specialists in 15 different media channels both online and off and "pioneered the use of online as a key integral part of the whole media strategy for a client."