Nwosu puts media at heart of MCHI process

MCHI managing partner Enyi Nwosu explains to Media Week why his new agency's structure redefines the age-old concept of "full service".

Enyi Nwosu, managing partner at MCHI
Enyi Nwosu, managing partner at MCHI

Perhaps it's the healing, forward-looking spirit of the times, but in the week President Obama was sworn in, cheering up virtually everyone's January, MCHI managing partner Enyi Nwosu is emphatically keen not to pick a fight.

"We are very clear about this," he says. "We are not here to say the media industry is getting it wrong -absolutely not. There is room for all kinds of models. But we are saying, we think there is a better way to approach this."

"This" is the integration and interaction of media strategy, planning and buying with creative thinking, execution and ideas. It is one of the founding principles of MCHI, the newly minted venture between ad agency CHI & Partners and WPP media agency parent GroupM.

Another of those principles is the concept of a flexible organisation with a single bottom line. A third principle is the agency's fee structure, which is flat, rather than commission-based. But again, Nwosu thinks now may not be the time for a provocative discussion.

"The whole fee/commission thing gets into a debate about the media industry and that is not the debate we want to have," says Nwosu firmly. "The debate we want to have is, ‘do we believe that putting people with broader skill sets around the problem will lead to better solutions?'"

Clearly, MCHI's answer is "yes". Nwosu, 38, along with co-managing partner Tim Allnutt, has his roots in full-service. Both men found their calling at Lowe Howard-Spink in the 1990s and Nwosu has been philosophically anti-separation ever since.

"I would say that, wouldn't I, because I started my career at full-service," he concedes. "But I love the sparky conversations in the corridor. Creatives will pass you and say, ‘I woke up this morning and saw something and I had an idea'. That just doesn't happen if you are not all in one place."

It is partly this dimension that makes MCHI different from CHI & Partners Media, which launched in late 2007, also under Nwosu and Allnutt, using GroupM as a buying department - logically enough, given WPP's 49.9% stake in CHI.

Going it alone
Now, the organisation has its own name, its own offices - two doors up from CHI on London's Rathbone Street - and an embedded media buying team, drawn from GroupM and led by Mindshare managing partner Paul Thomas.

MCHI's 40-strong operation quietly opened its doors a couple of months before Christmas, but kept a low profile until it had a story to tell. With Big Yellow Storage on board as a full-service client, Nwosu feels they can decently set out their stall.

As CHI & Partners Media, the agency had already won round CHI clients such as The Carphone Warehouse/TalkTalk and Tiger Beer, as well as Virgin Money, with combined billings of about £55m.

Each of the accounts is predictably different, but the aim is always to focus on the big idea, the assets of the brand, the needs of the business and the customer interfaces, says Nwosu. He calls it "inside-out" thinking, although "ideas planning", another MCHI term, would do just as well.

The qualities that make MCHI potentially different from other, similar stabs at the same goal are the established hotness of CHI, the buying clout of GroupM and the key principle of the single bottom line.

"The beauty of the model is that we build the right team for the client's needs," he says. "With Tiger Beer, it might be a small, event-based team. On Virgin Money, you might need a head of digital, a couple of strategists."

Nwosu doesn't want to pit MCHI against the established media industry, but he acknowledges that a new full-service agency makes an inherent political point about the limitations of the average client-agency partnership.

"I was at TBWA for four years and we spent a lot of time talking about putting things together that were very siloed," he says. "We don't do that at CHI at all. We don't sit there and think: ‘who is going to be remunerated for this?'"

Mindshare UK chief executive Jed Glanvill, who brokered the MCHI partnership with CHI co-founder Johnny Hornby, notes that all media agencies have the ability to slot in with a client's creative teams, and believes the MCHI concept will find its adherents.

Changing world
"The world is changing and some clients might be attracted to a model that is slightly different, where there is co-location of the creative and the media products," says Glanvill. "We need to be flexible and follow what clients are looking for, and if it's right for Carphone, I'm sure there will be others who feel it is right for them."

Given the integrated nature of modern, consumer-facing client businesses, the concept of an agency that can take a view across all media channels and all strategic business challenges is clearly a timely one.

Nwosu thinks the full-service cap fits, and he is happy that the term should remain in circulation, but he thinks it ought to be noted that its working definition today is very different to the one it had before.

"Full service used to mean 10 minutes at the end of the meeting," he says. "It wasn't an equitable relationship with the rest of the agency. But whereas full service used to mean ‘media at the end of the process', it now means ‘media right at the heart of the process, and driving it'."

Media partner, CHI & Partners, rising to managing partner, MCHI
2003 Managing partner and head of connections planning, TBWA
1998 Group account director, rising to managing partner, Optimedia
1992 Media manager, rising to associate director, Lowe Howard-Spink
1990 Media planner, The Media Shop
Family Married to Tanya with two children - Max, four, and Olivia, two
Lives Clapham, born in Dulwich
Car Range Rover Sport
Mobile phone BlackBerry
Desert island media The Guardian, Condé Nast Traveller, Sky News/Sky Sports News

Nwosu on...

The scalability of MCHI Will we suffer growing pains at some point in the future? It would be a nice problem to have. But as long as we maintain the one-bottom-line principle, we'll be fine.

New breeds of agency Anyone who starts an agency now doesn't build it the old way. You only have to look at Adam & Eve or Hurrell Moseley Dawson & Grimmer. All the agencies that spring up now have different skills at their heart.

His early years I was fortunate to start my career at a place where people really enjoyed working together and that carried through to Lowe Howard-Spink.

On the first steps of CHI & Partners Media I don't think it was a huge surprise that our founding client was The Carphone Warehouse. That's not to say it was a shoo-in. We had to prove that we would develop better solutions through the new model, which we did.

On media neutrality That is one of the phrases I think is weird. Where anything exciting is concerned, how can you be neutral about it?

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