Media Headliner: Can Davis carry on legacy of Christine Walker?
campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 03 December 2010 12:00AM
Is the new chief executive the right man to fill Walker's shoes or is it time for a more analytical approach, Jeremy Lee asks.
It's a crude observation, but many people have assumed that Simon Davis, who has just been promoted to chief executive of Walker Media, will now be trying to slip into the high heels once filled by Christine Walker.
After all, the agency has also hired MediaCom's head of strategic solutions, Sean Healy, to become the managing director, with the chairman, Phil Georgiadis, stepping back from the day-to-day running of the company, leaving the pair in charge.
Davis, it can be assumed, is the shrewd commercial thinker - Walker Media was his first agency job having previously spent his career in TV airtime sales - while Healy is the brainy planner.
So, the neat theory goes, Davis effortlessly becomes Christine, the famously tireless and fearless networker with an astonishing work ethic and eye on the bottom line, and Healy becomes Phil, with his thoughtful demeanour and brilliant strategic mind. Job done, succession management completed, leaving Georgiadis to take more of a backseat and start enjoying the well-earned fruits of his labour.
But this is far too simplistic. After all, recreating the alchemy between the two agency founders that led to the creation of Walker Media in 1996 would be impossible and, with the greatest respect, Davis is no Walker and Healy no Georgiadis.
Aside from Christine being a one-off, Georgiadis is a man with a restless brain who would probably find the endless rounds of golf and the same "do you remember when" conversations with the semi-retired old lags of media extremely mentally limiting. It's unlikely he'll be going too far.
It also does a bit of a disservice to Davis, who while lacking anything approaching Christine's profile, is very much his own man with his own views - although he's surprisingly reluctant to either articulate or share them.
"I have a strong view on how we manage the growth of the agency and I have as much freedom as I want, but with the benefit of Phil's counsel," he says. "The challenge is that the values of the agency stay the same - genuine client service by senior members of staff - unpolluted by agency deals."
When pushed, Davis says that this focus on Walker Media's client-by-client trading, rather than one big agency deal, is likely to become more profound. "Choosing the right channels for the right task is absolutely fundamental to what we offer," he says. He argues that, with media buying largely consolidated into three buying points, any claims of media-neutrality by rival agencies are nonsensical.
He also says that he wants Walker Media to "do fewer things better", stating that an oversupply of media has overcomplicated planning and trading while the agency's focus on digital is going to become "sharper". "The product will be the same but better known. We could probably market ourselves better," he says.
As part of the reorganisation, the management team has also invested in its Cleveland Street offices - something that would have been unthinkable under the famously parsimonious Christine (one story is that she used to complain about people using pads of paper from the stationery cupboard to prop up their computers as it was a "waste of stocks"). "We're growing as an agency - we're investing in people and the building," he says.
If anything, Davis seems to have a combination of some of the elements of both Christine and Phil. People who have worked with him describe him as being impressive in pitches, able to marry both commercial and strategic skills.
While he undoubtedly knows his way around a negotiation and has a business brain, he seems to lack the former's formidable reserves of chutzpah and front (he only reluctantly agreed to be profiled after persuasion from Georgiadis), so don't expect to see him tirelessly working a room, wine glass in one hand, cigarette in the other, any time soon.
He's also got some of Georgiadis' attributes - firm opinions on what's right and what's wrong and strong principles on genuine media neutrality. Given that this is probably Walker Media's key point of differentiation, this is a sensible strategy although whether penny-wise clients can be convinced of its value will be interesting to see.
Georgiadis says: "Simon has enhanced international capability - he has that experience. He's got good senior contacts. He'll probably be more analytical; we're not intending to change the proposition but rather enhance it."
He adds that by relinquishing the chief executive role, he will be able to act as the "conscience and brand guardian of the agency" and will spend more time with its clients and its staff. In particular, he wants to spend more time immersing himself in the "training and development of our people".
Although this is unlikely to mean that new recruits will find themselves spending one lunchtime a week locked in a stuffy training room while Georgiadis runs them through the minutiae of how to use DDS, it does mean that Davis and Healy will now be running the agency.
Georgiadis says: "I nearly got to the stage where there were people in the agency I didn't speak to. The history of Walker Media - its personal, entrepreneurial spirit - only works if everyone knows about it."
Although both Davis and Healy are, to some extent, relatively unknown qualities, it is now up to them to try to keep this unique spirit alive.
Most treasured possession: My health
Favourite media: i, London Evening Standard, Xfm, tvcatchup.com
Last book read: Solar by Ian McEwan
Interests outside work: Watching Arsenal relinquish two-goal leads;
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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