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Marquis remains calm as Zenith
faces challenging times

Simon Marquis, who has just been named as the new CEO of Zenith Media, does not seem unduly worried, writes Jennifer Whitehead.

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Not about Zenith's recent slide from the number-one slot in the media-buying Top of the Pops, nor the state of the advertising industry in the current economy. And he is not losing sleep, either, over Zenith Media's transfer to a new holding company (NewCo), along with Optimedia, to create the world's fourth-largest media-buying group.

In fact, it is hard to imagine anything worrying him much at all, unduly or otherwise.

Marquis takes over from Graham Duff, who has quit Zenith to become chief executive at Granada Enterprises at a date yet to be decided.

Marquis, 48, joined the company three-and-a-half years ago as managing director. At the time, industry insiders observed that perhaps the roles would have been better filled the other way around, with Duff -- who is, according to one observer, "wider than wide" -- seeming more of a natural for the managing director role.

But Marquis, a Cambridge graduate most often described as "charming" and "well-mannered", is not afraid to dirty his hands in the whole pitch process. "It feels good when you're winning," he says.

The two complemented each other to form a winning team. While refraining to comment on Duff's status, or otherwise, as a wide-boy, Marquis does admit, "I think we were very different, but very complementary. It was fairly obvious picking the right man for the right opportunity."

Can Marquis recreate the winning formula with his new managing director Tim Greatrex? One person who believes they will make a "great team" is Nick Milligan, deputy CEO and director of sales at Channel 5.

"Zenith always had teeth -- at least now they've got some hair," Milligan jokes, referring to Duff's famously bereft pate. "Simon understands the brand that is Zenith. He has the gravitas and authority that can only come with advanced years."

To the outside observer, it might not seem the best time to become the CEO of a company that, up until this year, had always been the biggest -- and when it comes to media buying, this necessarily means the best -- at what it does.

However, Marquis disagrees. "I don't see it as a bad time to be CEO, and I don't see dropping to number two as the end of the world. Obviously, we'd rather be number one than number two, but the table shows that there is a distinct group of big players. Mercifully, we're in that group," he says.

He is keen to point out that the report, published in Campaign, does suggest that it might not be long before Zenith forces Carat back into the number-two position. He also wants to make it clear that Zenith does a lot more than just media buying now, but the revenues from the media-planning business do not count in the table.

Zenith's own forecasts make for gloomy reading, with the rest of 2002 remaining flat. Marquis does not foresee himself, however, as the CEO who will preside over mass job cuts. "I hope not," he says. "We've resisted making any cuts so far, and we're still giving modest pay rises."

What can Zenith staff expect from their new CEO? Well, probably not the introduction of a company song or any major changes in corporate culture. Marquis says he's not one for reading the latest management books. "I'm not too keen on theorising about management. I think instinct has a lot to do with it," he says.

Instead, he talks about a few principles, which he describes as old-fashioned values, such as respecting people, talking straight and being courteous. "You can be firm and be bloody tough," he says, "but it doesn't mean we have to abandon civilised behaviour."

And even when he does indulge in some currently trendy management-speak, like the priority at Zenith being "about adding value for our clients", it somehow sounds inoffensive.

As far as the Optimedia deal goes, the result of an agreement between Publicis Groupe and Cordiant Communications, Marquis acknowledges that it is "one of the major issues we face". However, he's unable to shed any light on who will be running what, or how the agency brands will shape up. "I don't know the answers," he says.

However, as with the other important issues Marquis faces in his new role, he remains unperturbed.

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