Profile - Newcast chief is a man with a mission

ZenithOptimedia's Mark Waugh tells Julia Martin why he is convinced that his agency's launch of a new unit offering non-traditional media solutions to a range of clients is "a sure-fire certainty".

Mark Waugh is being very good-natured about having his picture taken - being cajoled into various poses in the glossy reception of ZenithOptimedia's new office, while curious colleagues and clients milling past take the mick.

But it quickly becomes apparent that good-natured is just Waugh all over. The agency's smiling deputy managing director has just been tasked with heading its new unit, Newcast, and he can barely contain his enthusiasm.

Ollie Harwood-Matthews, who headed The Village - Zenith's branded content network - and is now joint managing director of the new division, puts it simply: "He's incredibly passionate."

He's not kidding. As Waugh explains the mission of the new unit, he leans forward in his chair in excitement and can't resist showing off the PowerPoint presentation that he's been showing to clients to introduce the venture.

It seems this enthusiasm is infectious, if his report of clients' reaction is anything to go by.

"We've just been to see the Army. It was meant to be a 30-minute meeting, but we were there for two-and-a-half hours - they couldn't get enough of it," says Waugh beaming.

"We're seeing very large clients, the initial meetings are lasting longer and there's a clear action plan at the end of it - which is good for us, as we're 'get on with it' people."

"We" is a tightly knit team of 12, pulling together some of the agency's senior staff, along with specialists with expertise in areas such as digital, PR, TV and experiential.

Bold move

Together they form a hub tasked with providing know-how in all areas of non-traditional media. It's a bold move by ZenithOptimedia's chief executive Gerry Boyle, dedicating such senior staff and not-insignificant investment in a new way of working.

But Waugh insists: "It's not a bet, it's a sure-fire certainty. Clients have turned up a need for knowledge in this area. If we led this and there was no market, there'd be no point.

"That's the bottom line of why we're prepared to invest this money - it's not just because it's sexy and 'of the moment'; it will drive better ROI, and we have lots of proof of that."

This is pretty crucial for a business that sells itself as "the ROI agency".

Waugh admits that measuring the success of ad-funded programming, experiential marketing and other non-traditional media remains "a challenge" but that it is fundamental to the venture.

"If one agency's going to crack ROI on non-traditional media, it's us," he asserts.

"We have got to apply the same rigour to these solutions as you do to traditional trade inventory. We are working with our researchers to make sure we tie down the ROI. We're actively considering things such as an engagement index."

Of course, without concrete proof of the effectiveness of such media, clients aren't going to pay for it. But so far it seems they are lapping it up.

Newcast already has 70 projects at various stages in the pipeline, which Waugh says "tells you there's not one client that hasn't been touched by this" - and they seem happy to pay for the added service.

He adds: "All we sell is expertise and time - if both those things are new, we explain that to the client and they're prepared to pay us for it. We have a rate card for all these solutions."

Planners rule

He is keen to emphasise that the point of the exercise is to provide back-up and execution of the planners' ideas, and not to replace the strategic thinkers in the process.

"Planners are still sovereign," he insists. "They generate brand and consumer insights and produce the communication idea. Our job is to educate and inspire them. We take on development and execution."

Media owners have also been factored into the process, and Waugh has even drawn up a media owner charter to ensure fruitful partnerships - and to steal a march on rivals by getting first dibs on media owner-generated solutions.

"The vision is we want to have the most productive partnerships and we want first refusal on ideas," he says. "We say 'judge us at the end of the year as to whether we have stuck to the charter and whether it's been a more productive way to work'."

Waugh is clearly confident what that answer will be 12 months down the line and indeed he has plenty of experience in this area, setting up The Village 10 years ago.

It's why he thinks he was picked by Boyle to head up the project - that and the fact that he'd been nagging his boss to do something in this vein for some time.

"I kept saying to Gerry 'isn't there a better way for us to do this?'" he admits.

"He knew we needed to tackle this; hopefully he thought I had the experience and gravitas to structure the business properly, recruit the right people and sell it to clients."

If enthusiasm counts for anything, then there can be little doubt that Boyle has picked the right man for the job.

CV

2007: Head of Newcast, ZenithOptimedia Group

2003: Deputy managing director, ZenithOptimedia

1997: Managing partner, Optimedia

1996: UK board director, Optimedia

1990: Media planner/buyer, Publicis.

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