EssenceMediacom has made Richard Kirk its first senior management appointment in the UK since officially launching last month.
Kirk, previously the chief strategy officer at Zenith, has joined EssenceMediacom in the same role. He will work alongside CSO Geoff De Burca, who has held the role for more than three years.
The pair will manage planning and strategy across EssenceMediacom – the agency formerly known as Mediacom. The remit does not extend to EssenceMediacomX, formerly Essence, where the strategy lead is Alina Kulesza.
Although it is unusual for media agencies to employ two strategy leads, Mediacom has employed dual CSOs in the past.
Chris Binns and Steve Gladdis were joint-CSOs from 2017 until late 2019, when De Burca took over in a single role after Binns became the global CSO on Mediacom's Coca-Cola account and Gladdis was promoted to Mediacom EMEA CSO.
Campaign understands EssenceMediacom has been in talks with Kirk for several months leading up to his departure from Zenith.
Last week Zenith promoted Richard Clay to head of strategy in the wake of Kirk's departure, effectively making Clay his successor.
EssenceMediacom chief executive Kate Rowlinson told Campaign that Kirk's hiring is "a strategic move to drive growth and part of the creation of EssenceMediacom to build out a really strong planning and strategy capability to deliver on the promise of the new agency".
“The promise of the new EssenceMediacom agency is to deliver breakthroughs for clients," she said. "So that means breakthrough planning, breakthrough thinking, breakthrough ideas, and Richard's appointment really is about helping us deliver on that. I was trying to build a complementary partnership with Geoff so this is a joint-CSO model. In a business of our size, Geoff has a huge amount of ground to cover with five offices and multiple clients.”
Rowlinson said that Kirk brings a diverse skill set to EssenceMediacom and described him as one of the leading experts in digital SEO and a "thought leader”. She said he would complement De Burca’s traditional media planning nous.
Kirk had been the strategy lead at Zenith for nearly four years and worked on several award-winning media campaigns, including the “Probably not time Uswitch” campaign that won plaudits for creativity.
He also played a part in Zenith winning several large clients in the past few years, including Halifax, Uswitch, Confused.com, Zoopla, Nestlé and Lloyds Banking Group, a former Mediacom client. He also worked as a brand strategist for two and a half years at Amazon.
Kirk told Campaign he looks forward to working with De Burca and that at Zenith he used to work closely with chief executive Natalie Cummins, who has a planning and strategy background.
“This is a return to form for EssenceMediacom – there have been numerous famous pairings occupying the MediaCom UK CSO position, such as Chris and Steve. I am hopeful Geoff and I can live up to those pairings that went before.
“I prefer working as a pair. CSOs have to tackle the knottiest questions in media and having a trusted partner to bounce ideas around with is invaluable achieving the best work. I worked like this with Nat Cummins at Zenith, and I believe it made us both better operators.
“We’re facing into a future where the media landscape is changing really quickly. Between Geoff and I, EssenceMediacom has a team that knows the agency and its clients inside out but also offers a fresh perspective. So I reckon we’re really well placed to meet that challenge.”
De Burca added: “As we look to drive growth for our clients in a complex and ever evolving landscape, we need to fuse expertise and multiple skill sets to deliver the best outcomes. I’m excited to be a part of a powerful and complementary partnership between myself and Rich as EssenceMediacom UK evolves in its planning and strategy capabilities under the new agency structure.”
Binns and Gladdis took on dual strategy leadership roles when long-serving strategy chief Sue Unerman became the agency's chief transfomation officer in 2017. De Burca has held sole strategy ledership duties in recent years.
'We have strong momentum'
EssenceMediacom officially launched at the end of January, combining WPP’s largest media agency in the UK, Mediacom, with its digital media specialist, Essence.
Mediacom was not just the largest agency in terms of headcount with about 1,280 staff, but managed the most media billings on behalf of clients (£1.4bn), according to 2021 Nielsen figures. Essence was ranked fourth with £531m in billings and in the region of 680 staff, according to staffing figures prior to the merger.
Due to client conflicts, the agencies will legally operate separately in the UK but under similar branding – EssenceMediacom (formerly Mediacom) and EssenceMediacomX (formerly Essence). Globally, EssenceMediacom operates as a single agency.
In practice, Rowlinson told Campaign that the merger meant that both EssenceMediacom and EssenceMediacomX have the combined capabilities of the two previous agencies.
She said EssenceMediacom had “strong momentum” after retaining one of its largest clients Tesco, in a straight shootout with Zenith, and expanding its media planning and buying contract with betting and gaming group Flutter Entertainment – owner of Paddy Power, Betfair and Tombola.
In 2022, EssenceMediacom has expanded its relationship with Sky and several other clients, but lost Direct Line Group, British Gas owner Centrica and LVMH.
“We have really strong momentum in the market,” Rowlinson added. “Whilst last year wasn't without its challenges, we also renewed a significant number of relationships with clients. So I actually think it's been overwhelmingly positive [in recent months].”