Simon Davis is returning to the front line of media buying as he launches an independent agency with backing from communications group MSQ Partners.
Davis has called the agency Walk-In Media because he said he wanted to signal that it is "a place that advertisers can walk into", particularly fast-growth companies that are looking to scale up and need help on media planning and buying.
He added that Walk-In Media is also a "cheeky nod" to the former name of his previous employer, Blue 449, which was known as Walker Media until 2015.
Davis spent 13 years at the company where he was UK chief executive, before quitting in April in a shock move – just weeks after Publicis Groupe took 100% control.
He said that he decided to re-enter the media agency sector because he saw a big opportunity to launch a business from scratch, but felt it was important to have the support of an established communications group such as MSQ to build Walk-In Media into an operation with scale "from day one".
Some of the UK’s current crop of independent media agencies "have taken a decade to scale up in terms of capability, particularly around digital, data and tech", Davis noted.
Walk-In Media will operate as an independent agency that can "draw upon MSQ’s broader multidisciplinary capabilities such as performance marketing, data and analytics, creative and martech to deliver a joined-up service tailored to each client’s individual communications needs", the two companies said in a joint statement.
The statement continued: "Walk-in Media aims to remove the barriers that are increasingly preventing clients from working effectively with media agencies, tackling the inflexibility, trust and transparency issues often related to holding companies, whilst also providing greater scale and more capabilities than independents."
Davis will be based at MSQ’s London hub on Tottenham Court Road and Walk-In Media will work, "where relevant", with the group’s other agencies, including The Gate London, a full-service creative and media shop, and Twentysix, a Leeds-based performance marketing outfit.
MSQ has offices in eight markets, including New York, San Francisco, Shanghai and Singapore, meaning Walk-In Media could run multi-market campaigns.
Davis said it was too early to discuss plans to recruit staff or founding clients.
An alternative to big holding companies
When Davis quit Blue 449 in April, Campaign reported that he had disagreed with the way Publicis, the world’s third-largest agency holding company, wanted to make his agency part of Spark Foundry’s global network.
He would not comment on his departure, but made clear that he thinks independent agencies may be better-placed to serve mid-sized and smaller clients.
"The move to impersonal, centralised specialist practices by the big holding companies may serve the biggest-spending global clients, but it has hollowed out their media agencies and damaged the quality of their service to mid-sized and smaller clients, who are now being neglected," Davis said.
"Walk-In Media will offer the service, transparency and breakthrough thinking you would hope for from an independent media agency, but with a global footprint and full specialist capabilities, including digital performance, tech, data and content, from day one.
"Whether you are an advertiser of scale questioning the quality of service and output from your big holding company media agency, or a scaling-up advertiser looking to move to the next level of growth, we will be able to provide the full service you need to deliver results. Feel free to walk in for some grown-up advice."
MSQ has expansion plans after winning investment from private equity group LDC in May in a deal that valued the group at £37.5m.
Peter Reid, chief executive of MSQ, said: "Our support of Simon’s launch shows our enthusiasm for working with the best talent out there. Our recent investment allows us to take better advantage of exciting new opportunities and we believe that being able to offer the full suite of marketing services will provide our clients with more effective joined-up communications."
Charles Courtier, who joined as chairman of MSQ this year, also brings media agency expertise since he used to be global chief executive of MEC.
Walk-In Media is following a similar path to Walker Media, which was set up by Christine Walker and Phil Georgiadis in 1998, with backing from an established independent agency group, M&C Saatchi.
Davis previously worked at media owners, including NBCUniversal in New York and Express Newspapers. He joined Walker Media in 2006 when it was still an independent.
Publicis bought a majority stake in 2013 and the rebranded Blue 449 doubled in valuation to £100m by 2019 after winning some big clients, including Asda.