Where did media agencies get their names from?
Do you know what OMD stands for and what the "Six" in m/Six refers to? Mediatel News brings you a comprehensive guide of where media agencies got their names from, which media leaders were responsible, and what alternatives were almost chosen...
This new agency, which only launched in May, settled on the vehicular name in a "simple moment of clarity".
Co-founder Lauren Ogúndèkó explains: "A Bicycle only works when the wheels are turning in total harmony. A Bicycle only works with a human at the heart of it.
"Bicycle gives us so much to work with in terms of how we develop our culture, our riders, the cadence with which we work, the ability to help our clients change gear between brand and performance, creative and media."
The agency pledges to unlock an integrated planning and buying experience for clients by "using data and data science to intertwine brand and performance, creative and media with human control at the heart".
But Bicycle was not the first choice. The founders had originally settled on Joy MX.
And yet that initial choice proved to be anything but joyful.
Ogúndèkó recalls: "We received universal feedback that [Joy MX] sounded like we were selling something a bit seedy as opposed to media planning and buying services.
The name Carat was the brainchild of Gilbert Gross, the co-founder of the company and for many also the pioneer behind all media buying agencies worldwide.
Carat, or CARAT, is an acronym that was chosen to give a simple explanation of the company’s activities: Centrale d'achats Radio, Affichage, Télévision.
In English this would be the arguably less appealing CROT: Central purchasing, Radio, Outdoor, Television).
The agency has its roots from a company called SGGMD (or Société Générale de Gestion de Marketing & de Développement) which then changed its name to CARAT in 1966.
The name was chosen because X marks the spot for new agencies. And Dentsu because, well, it's a Dentsu business.
An agency spokeswoman explains: "X is where we don’t create siloes of 'media', 'creative' or 'CXM'.
"X is the crossover point between different people, disciplines, markets, sectors; it’s where everything comes together to create magical consumer and client experiences, or even Xperiences."
The name was formed in consultation with an international exec team based in the Dentsu HQ in Tokyo and colleagues in Japan. The shared goal was to create something that was intrinsically “dentsu”, and yet different from the Japanese mother brand.
Since launching as a global media agency four years ago, dentsu X has been named the fastest growing global media agency by RECMA for three years in a row.
Apparently DX Marvels was a popular alternative name – although one suspects taking on Disney in a copyright battle wouldn't be the best use of a new agency's time.
Nevertheless, the agency aspires for staff to be "superheroes that work tirelessly to help their clients and each other to go above and beyond".
The idea for the business was born around a table at Piccolino’s in Hedden Street, where co-founders Simon Orpin and Nick Kendall drew a business plan out on a napkin.
Orpin and Kendall began life in partnership with the digital agency agenda21 and their first name for the new agency was AllScreens21. "What were we thinking about?", Orpin laments.
But the name Electric Glue was actually inspired by Sir John Hegarty, the agency's chairman and creative legend who co-founded BBH.
Electric Glue co-founder Kevin Brown (the founding partner of Motive, BBH's media arm) recalled that the literal translation of the Chinese term for movies, “dian ying”, was Electric Shadow.
"We all thought that sounded rather cool," Orpin explains. "But the name was already taken by a London-based film production company."
The missing piece of the puzzle came from Hegarty, who would later tell them: “Boys, what you do is glue screens together”.
While they fell in love with the name, they are occasionally plagued by being referred to as Electric Blue (a wholly different fish in every way).
Electric Glue co-founders Nick Kendall and Kevin Brown in 2016, on the day the agency became fully independent
Plus, the name gave rise to a serendipitous ending.
Orpin explains: "Electric Blue is a lyric in David Bowie’s aptly titled song Sound and Vision. On re-visiting the restaurant of our birth one day we noticed a blue plaque on the wall of the neighbouring building.... to none other than Ziggy Stardust. So maybe the likeness of Blue and Glue was meant to be, after all."
Essence, the newest agency member of WPP's Group M, is so named to harness the important drivers of decision-making through critical thinking and data analysis. But other brand names were floated in the agency's early days.
The business was founded by Andrew Shebbeare, Andy Bonsall and Matt Isaacs who met while working at a financial services startup and building full service in-house marketing and media departments for Lloyds TSB. While there, they developed an in-house digital marketing arm called Creative Services.
In 2005, they decided to create their own agency that would unite media and creative services and build the technology to power them.
That summer, Essence launched and began working with UK mobile retailer The Carphone Warehouse.
The agency's proprietary media management platform was created shortly afterwards. The original project code name was Firefly – but this was only ever used internally.
Co-founders Andrew Stephens and Ben Hayes are parents to the Goodstuff name, with perhaps more credit due to Hayes given the provenance.
For many years, Hayes had only one folder on his desktop where he put the work he was particularly proud of producing and occasionally other people’s work that he wished he’d been a part of.
That folder was named “good stuff”.
One day in 2003 over a pint at The Dev, when brainstorming names for their future media agency, they opened Hayes's laptop and it was apparently an instant hit as an agency name.
They say: "Goodstuff was born with the ambition to always challenge themselves and all future Goodstuffers to create the best work of their lives. Work good enough to sit in the now collective Goodstuff folder (a folder that still exists to this day)."
Apparently Flavour - a favourite of Stephens - would have been the next choice. Each to their own.
Havas is the family name of Charles-Louis Havas, the French writer and translator.
Monsieur Havas created the first French news agency in 1835, which would later become the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency.
Havas was acquired in 1998 by Vivendi, the French media conglomerate controlled by the Bolloré family.
Havas Media incorporates the media assets of Havas, which includes predominantly entities which were formerly known as Media Planning Group (MPG).
MPG was created in March 1999 as the result of a merger between Media Planning founded in 1978, and Médiapolis, founded in 1980.
Hearts & Science
Omnicom's newest media agency network, launched in 2016, stood out as an alternative to its acronymised stablemates OMD and PHD.
According to Omnicom Media Group at the time, "Hearts & Science" was inspired by marketers “seeking business advantage in a world of personalised and digital marketing” and where decisions must be made in real time.
The "heart" is there because the agency is "guided by human behaviour, media and context", while there is "science" because "we dig deep into data for insights".
iProspect was founded in Boston in 1996 by Fredrick Marckini, at the time the first agency to specialise in search marketing. It even registered a trademark for itself as “the original search engine marketing firm.”
The name was seen to tick two boxes:
- convey the concept of the Internet being in its infancy and most products and brands coming out which were web-related began their names with an ‘i’ to make it very clear they were a part of this upcoming phenomenon
- communicate the concept of prospecting for people.
In the early years, the marketing team took it even further around prospecting/ mining for people with their trade show booth reflective of a mine entrance, where people were "mining for gold".
Then this year, Dentsu decided to merge iProspect and Vizeum under the former's brand name. It is now a full-service media agency offering a digital-first brand building solution.
Even after 25 years, there still wasn’t a strong enough alternative to even consider as a ‘next choice’, they company says.
Vizeum was created by Aegis in 2003 by bringing together over a dozen agencies in Europe (including BBJ in the UK). It's not really Latin but, it was reported at the time, was chosen to suggest "vision" while being Latin-sounding.
Media pioneer Dennis Holt launched Western International Media in 1970 and, incredibly, the website still exists with a direct line and email for Holt.
In 1994, the company – then the largest indie US media shop – was acquired by IPG and four years later merged with its European media buying network, Paris-based Initiative Media Worldwide.
Initiative was founded as Initiative Media in Paris in 1975 and had branched out into the Latin America and Asia-Pacific regions in 1996 before being merged with what was then North America’s largest independent media agency Western Media that year.
The new combined agency was called Western Initiative Media Worldwide, or WIMW. It became simply Initiative in 2003.
But why "Initiative"?
"It was chosen because we take the Initiative in culture," an agency spokeswoman tells Mediatel News.
Nick Wright, the MD of Havas Entertainment (which content and culture agency JUMP is part of) can’t fully remember who came up with the latter agency name so is going to claim responsibility.
"We wanted something that shouted energy and that would enable us to be disruptive," Wright says. "A lot of language we were using at the time was about ‘giving media a jump’, and how we use real cultural insights (not just a bunch of data or TGI runs) as ‘jumping off points’ for ideas.
"We also wanted something that could easily not be an agency name. We had these ideas on how JUMP could be a T-shirt label as much as it could be an agency. We’re still yet to design a T-shirt."
The agency was originally called Havas X, but that was taken by another Havas business.
Wright is tight-lipped about alternative names but admits "the other options were abysmal".
But as much as brand names define an agency, agencies define a brand name, Wright insists.
"You have to start with something half-decent, but your agency personality is built on so much more – the work you do (or don’t do), how you show up in the world and the culture you create around your people.
Rather controversially, he adds: "Oasis is a terrible band name, but they turned it into a cultural icon of the 90s."
The Kite Factory
Led by CEO Robin Trust, MC&C (Mike Colling & Company) enlisted brand strategy agency Curious to help it undergo a complete rebrand in April 2019.
Trust and Co were keen to be known as more than a direct-response agency. They felt the business had evolved and wanted the name to capture its creativity and strategic prowess, as well as a passion for data and delivering measurable outcomes.
The Kite Factory was felt to be a true representation of the agency and an aspirational brand for current and future talent.
It was also seen as a perfect metaphor for its proposition: "a free-thinking media agency, creating boundless ideas that are deeply anchored in data, and therefore measurable."
Alternative names on the shortlist included Human Made as a close second, as well as Sideways, and Wonderful. A surprisingly popular choice was Audacious Giraffe Society, which was mulled over for a while.
Love Sugar Science
Manchester has become a breeding ground for media start-ups and e-commerce companies. So the four founders of a new creative media shop knew their agency name had to stand out from the crowd when launching the business in 2018.
Love Sugar Science is another way of describing the agency's proposition: people (love), creativity (sugar), and science (effectiveness).
But, given the headstrong nature of each of the founders, the naming process proved to be even more difficult than naming her children, CEO Jess Scott tells Mediatel News.
"In the end a mixture of a voting system, chilli peppers and a behavioural economist got us to where we are today," she reveals.
"We could have followed the newly trodden path of naming ourselves after the watering holes we met to discuss our new business dreams. But calling ourselves Zifferblat or Costa didn't feel quite right."
And yet Scott wonders what might have been. She adds: "I never got to name the agency after my children (such a shame) and Nik [Wheatley] never got to name it after his favourite song Rebel Yell, Pricey [Simon Price] never got to name us Bond4 and Steven [Gregory] never got his choice of Persuasion (which looking back is a good job!)"
Manning Gottlieb Media (now Manning Gottlieb OMD)
Nick Manning and Colin Gottlieb founded their new media agency in 1990.
Manning, now a media consultant and Mediatel News columnist, recalls: "In those days agencies took their founders’ names, like our partner agency Simons, Palmer, Denton, Clemmow and Johnson.
"Which, as the saying goes, sounds like a suitcase falling downstairs."
There was never any question that the agency would be called anything else. "People didn’t do that kind of thing in those days," Manning (pictured, above) insists.
"MGM’ sounded better than GMM as shorthand... until Metro Goldwyn Mayer sent us a ‘cease and desist’ letter."
Thirty-one years later, it's probably safe to assume that won't happen. The more familiar acronym is now MGOMD, after the agency sold to Omnicom in 1997, with the OMD branding inserted five years later.
MediaCom was originally founded in 1986 as the media planning and buying network of Grey Global Group, but became its own independent media-buying agency in 1999 after acquiring Allan Rich's The Media Business to create MediaCom/TMBG. It became simply 'MediaCom' a couple of years later.
The name MediaCom was created by Peter Lammerhuber, who started the first MediaCom office in Austria as a spin-off of the local Grey office.
He was the one that also gave the big middle “C”. Germany’s MediaCom office, with Alexander Schmidt-Vogel, started a year after Austria, also as a subsidiary of Grey.
As one might guess, the name is simply an abbreviation of "media company".
"No one ever remembers our big middle C", a MediaCom source plaintively told Mediatel News.
To which we can only sympathise, except we have the opposite problem (people keep calling us MediaTel!)
WPP launched Mindshare in 1997 by combining the media divisions of Ogilvy and JWT and sought to create a name that stood out by not having the word "media" in its branding.
Mandy Pooler, the first CEO of Mindshare, tells Mediatel News there is no absolute consensus over who specifically came up with the name.
She recalls that: "Eric Salama, who was the WPP point person, thinks he, Stephen [now Lord Carter of JWT], and I came up with it in a brainstorm.
"My recollection is that it was Miles Young of Ogilvy in APAC who suggested it initially. The branding was then done by WPP agency Coley Porter Bell. Purple was the obvious colour being the red of Ogilvy and the blue of JWT combined."
Pooler and colleagues thought the name was 'right for the times", because it moved on from the old days of ‘share of voice’ in what had become an attention economy."
It wasn't to everyone's taste, though. Dominic Mills, then editor of Campaign and now Mediatel News columnist, wrote at the time: "Anything would have been better, even WPP Media. But no, MindShare - so caring, so tree hugging, so California think-tank - it is."
MCHI, a media-agency joint venture between CHI & Partners and WPP, rebranded itself as m/SIX in 2012 under the leadership of then CEO, Jess Burley.
Why m/SIX? Because everybody in the world can, they said, be linked with six connections and media (the m) is the glue that can bind these disparate people together.
Back in 1996, Omnicom decided to merge the media operations of then full-service agencies DDB Needham and BBDO. These were respectively known as Optimum Media and Media Direction.
The new agency network, Optimum Media Direction, was formed in Paris and over time took over the media operations for TBWA\Chiat Day, too.
OMD UK launched in 1999 as a pooled resource for Omnicom's then three media shops: BMP Optimum, New PHD and Manning Gottlieb Media.
The UK office of OMD was created in 2000, from the merger of the OMD international office with the BMP OMD media department.
Starcom was born in 1997 as a spin-off specialist media business from Leo Burnett that coupled planning and buying, while also placing a strong focus on media strategy. Leo Burnett was acquired by Publicis Groupe in 2002.The name Starcom is a nod to the agency’s Leo Burnett roots and a play on Leo Burnett’s famous quote, “When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.” At the time of naming, it was considered important to consciously connect to the Leo Burnett legacy and reinforce the agency’s culture of client excellence.
The core team behind the agency's founding and branding was led by Jack Klues , Dick Hobbs, Bob Brennan and Jeannie Euch Denuo.
Spark Foundry was initially known as Starlink, which arose from the fact that that it was spun out of its Publicis Groupe stablemate Starcom. Over time, it became clear Spark needed to differentiate itself from Starcom, and so the Spark name was born after a brief naming project. Its legal name was established as “Spark Communications,” but as it grew and became a global agency it became clear it needed a more unique name to clear legal hurdles across different international markets. After a year’s exploration, it became Spark Foundry, which alludes to the fact that it combines "the spark of innovation with the tried and true fundamentals of media".
Despite agency brands being "incredibly important", agency founder Jenny Biggam admits she has "never given a lot of thought to agency names".
This is why the7stars was named after a pub when it was launched by Biggam, Mark Jarvis and Colin Mills in 2005.
Biggam (pictured, above) tells Mediatel News: "The more you think about the names of some of the global media agencies the less sense they make. We wanted our agency name to be something fun and distinctive, and we didn't want it to be named after the founders."
She explains: "At the time it was a work-in-progress name, based on the sister restaurant of The Seven Stars pub. Inevitably, the work in progress name became the real name, and the rest is history.
"At the7stars we do everything in sevens, our planning process is called gravity planning, and our award scheme is called the orbits."
In fact, Biggam repeated the trick when the7stars backed a second agency, Bountiful Cow, that was founded by ex-Arena Media boss Henry Daglish in 2016.
The bovine theme has certainly stuck, though. At Bountiful Cow, the team are The Herd and All-staffers are called MooTime.
Mike Sell, the founder and chairman of the "behavioural planning agency", asked a copywriter friend for agency-name suggestions and Total Media stood out from the pack.
"The brief, as a fledgling business, was to convey the fact that we could operate across all media," Sell explains. " All Media Services had already been taken, and so Total Media was our unanimous choice."
When the agency launched in 1982, the custom in the advertising/media industry was to name start-up businesses after the founders, but for some reason the name Sell Media did not appeal.
Sell recalls: "In the early 80’s, in the days of pigeon post, we had a number of interesting misrepresentations of our name, including "Totat Medina", "Fatal Media" and "Total Tedia" – although this last was from a friend of mine, so I suspect that was an intentional 'error'."
UM’s name origin dates back to when it were the media arm for McCann Erickson (derived from its two founders).
Universal McCann was established in 1999 as part of McCann Worldgroup, which included units across the advertising ecosystem (such as Momentum for experiential and MRM for customer relationship management).
Wavemaker was revealed in 2017 as the name of the new Group M agency formed after the merger of MEC and Maxus. The name was taken from MEC’s existing content division, MEC Wavemaker.
But why reuse the name?
Toby Jenner, Wavemaker’s global CEO, explains: “When I first joined Wavemaker, I gave the team the opportunity to completely reinvent the business but I was insistent that we kept the name.
"Wavemaker stands for disruption, transformation and provocation – all the attributes that, having met with our teams around the world, I found inherent in our DNA.
"It gave us the opportunity to build a business whose name reflected our proposition, product and attitude, creating one truly unified brand. Put simply, our name is our mission and our method."
What's Possible Group
Earlier this Summer the team behind The Specialist Works launched What's Possible Group, and the media agency TSW will remain one of four agencies within it.
Before What’s Possible existed, The Specialist Works mantra was "powered by possibility".
Then CEO Martin Woolley and Co held held an annual conference for dynamic growth brands called What’s Possible.
Woolley says: "When it came to our name we wanted to be authentic to the innovation and collaboration that got us to that point, and that would serve our future development."
Woolley is tight-lipped about alternative names that weren't chosen, because he wants to keep them in his pocket for future launches.
"The What’s Possible Group is the home of diverse solutions, so we’ll need to dig into that list of names when we’re ready to name the next one."
Yonder was born in 2018 after former Havas Media Group exec Ed Cox teamed up with the founders of micro-network The Beyond Collective, Zaid Al-Zaidy and Nic Ost.
“We wanted something that could sit comfortably within The Beyond Collective and alongside sister creative agency Above+Beyond," Cox says.
They settled on Yonder because it conveys an ambition to "go further for clients" and "look beyond the horizon for them".
Cox adds: "It also alludes the fact that we consider more than paid media and have a bigger picture view. Our ‘spirit animal’ is an eagle (that’s another story) and our early brand identity featured wide vistas, landscapes, mountain ranges and that sort of thing."
The founders briefly considered naming the agency YONDR or YNDR, as a "fashionable" alternative which also helps you secure a preferred website domain. But they decided against it because, Cox says, "it sounded too much like an app or tech business and would date quickly".
Zenith was actually a temporary placeholder name that managed to stick long after it launched from a converted warehouse in Paddington.
John Perris was Zenith’s first CEO so the name is likely to have come from him, the agency says, or Steve King who was one of the members of the original executive team.
Obviously it means the peak or the top, implying that it is 'the best'.
That's a matter of opinion, but Zenith can claim to be the first media agency of its kind in the UK, when in 1988 it was formed from the media-buying departments of Saatchi & Saatchi, BSB Dorland and KHBB.
Zenith Media Buying Services would eventually become Zenith and was tagged as "the ROI agency in 2002" a proposition that the agency still adhered to today.
There was also a long stint as ZenithOptimedia when Publcis Groupe bought Saatchis in 2000 and merged Zenith with Optimedia, until the latter was dropped in 2016.
If you're a media agency we've missed off this list and would like to share the story behind your name, please do get in touch by emailing the editor: email@example.com.