MediaCom launches global division to bring creative and media back together

Stef Calcraft will lead a new global leadership team.

Omar Oakes

MediaCom is launching MediaCom Creative Systems, a global division that will aim to bring media and creative back together using data and technology.

It will be led by Stef Calcraft, the Mother co-founder who joined the WPP network in 2019 as global chief executive, creative transformation.

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MediaCom had already launched Creative Systems in its Australia and US regions in 2019, but now staff with global roles will join a global Creative Systems leadership team. 

The leadership will include Jane Ratcliffe (global managing director), Nick Palmer (global head of product), Misha Sher (global head of sport, entertainment and culture), Anush Prabhu (global chief strategy officer) and Benjamin Vendramin (global chief creative officer). Prabhu and Vendramin will perform their roles in addition to their MediaCom US responsibilities.

The roll-out fits with WPP’s wider strategy of repositioning itself as a creative transformation company. Last summer Xaxis, Group M’s programmatic arm, launched Xaxis Creative Studios, a global creative hub designed to help brands integrate creative assets into data-driven online campaigns.

MediaCom Creative Systems will offer new products such as “addressable creative”, which aims to improve media performance by integrating addressable creative with addressable media, and “creative analytics”, a new tool that uses artificial intelligence to “understand which ads work and which don’t”.

The agency is also launching MediaCom Play, a full-service gaming practice that will have regional hubs in New York, London and Shanghai.

Calcraft said: “We have entered a new era of creativity where relevance sits at the heart of every CEO and CMO’s growth ambitions. But to drive relevance requires different ways of working and a transformed combination of creative solutions. 

“The creative potential of the data and insights available to media agencies is groundbreaking, but it is largely untapped due to the divide that still too often exists between media and creative. Creative Systems bridges this gap to help accelerate the creative transformation of our clients’ brands and businesses.”

Calcraft’s media agency management experience includes a year-long stint at Dentsu in 2018 and a board seat at Naked Communications, an independent agency that fused creative and media strategy, between 2000 and 2008.

Back to the future for WPP

WPP pioneered the split between media and creative under the leadership of its long-serving former chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell. Sorrell, who pioneered the modern advertising holding company model in the 1980s, enabled agencies like J Walter Thompson to operate their own P&Ls and maximise their own margins through media and creative, which were under one roof in a “full-service” model. Previously, companies like Interpublic kept their networks separate in order to accommodate conflicting accounts.

In 1997, Sorrell created Mindshare out of the media departments of JWT and Ogilvy & Mather in order to consolidate media buying and enable specialist “creative agencies” to become involved in owning and producing content. In 2003, Sorrell established Group M, WPP’s central media buying unit, to offer clients “best in class” media capabilities. Group M is now the world’s largest media buyer and comprises the networks Essence, MediaCom, Mindshare and Wavemaker. 

However, some companies have since been seeking to bring creative and media back together, especially due to the advent of programmatic media and the ability to target internet users with personalised creative powered by ever-more sophisticated tech. Media agencies are sometimes frustrated with waiting for whatever the creative agency comes up with and not being in a position to undertake the time-intensive labour required to chop and change the creative for different audiences and formats. 

Over the past decade, a new breed of companies has been touting their ability to offer some version of “better, faster and cheaper” marketing communications services, such as Accenture Interactive, Brainlabs, Jellyfish, You & Mr Jones (which this week announced the hiring of former Mindshare chief Nick Emery to launch a global media division), and S4 Capital (formed by Sorrell after he quit WPP in 2018 amid a misconduct investigation). 

Many brands also prefer to do their own creative production and/or digital media planning and buying in-house. A survey last year revealed that 72 per cent of companies have in-house agencies – up 13 per cent from 2019.

While MediaCom launching a global creative division is not the same as winding the clock back to a full-service operation, the move is part of a wider industry trend to bring creative and media closer together as marketing disciplines.