NEWSMAKER/RICHARD BURDETT: How the agency man evolved into the media man. Richard Burdett preaches media with all the zeal of a convert. By Claire Beale
By CLAIRE BEALE, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 31 July 1998 12:00AM
Some jaded creative agency stalwarts still sniff the air with distaste when you mention the word media, conjuring memories of those last, painful five minutes in client presentations when, suddenly, the meeting slipped into a strange foreign language with an Essex twang.
Some jaded creative agency stalwarts still sniff the air with
distaste when you mention the word media, conjuring memories of those
last, painful five minutes in client presentations when, suddenly, the
meeting slipped into a strange foreign language with an Essex twang.
Then there’s Richard Burdett. Eleven years with Saatchi & Saatchi
through the 80s and early 90s, the archetypal suit: slick, smooth, great
glad-hander, once a man for whom media was the tedious, unwelcome
intrusion into the serious business of creating advertising campaigns.
’I spent ten years putting media last on the agenda and hoping it would
drop off,’ Burdett admits.
But no longer. Burdett - a 40-year-old who looks like a wizened
schoolboy, can still be mistaken for a graduate trainee and has a
penchant for rather young lovelies (though is now loved-up with Lucy
Thomas, a TV producer at Grey) - is the newly appointed vice-chairman of
CIA Medianetwork and he’s been singing from the media hymnsheet for a
few years now.
Whether renaissance-man Burdett has truly undergone a transmogrification
that has opened his eyes to the salvation media can offer to the agency
soul, or whether his conversion can be attributed more to professional
necessity, is a little harder to fathom. Either way, he makes a pretty
convincing media evangelist and now he’s gone the full 180 degrees from
full-service agency to full-service media agency (as CIA brands itself),
Burdett says the media specialist is where it’s at.
You can see why he’s such a good catch for CIA. In a world where the
average senior media man carries with him heaps of baggage from the days
when media confessed to being little more than a negotiation process,
Burdett genuinely brings with him years of getting under the client’s
skin. A quick tour round his CV throws up experience in account handling
and client servicing, selling, marketing and media from the owner’s side
of the fence. Not a bad little package for your progressive media
company to buy into.
But for a man who claims only to have ever wanted to work in an
advertising agency, moving to media was not a natural decision. ’From
the age of 14, I never wanted to be anything other than an account
handler,’ he confesses.
Dad was managing director of Access and when he handed his son
thebeautiful leather briefcases he’d been given by agencies in pitches,
our Rich was only interested in the layouts and scripts inside. ’But I
never wanted to be creative, I just wanted to be the bloke in the suit
Burdett eventually glided into advertising on a wave of nepotism (as he
freely admits). Dad was then head of public affairs at NatWest Bank and
introduced junior to Saatchis’ head of graduate recruitment, ’and the
rest is history’.
But after 13 years in account handling, ’I genuinely felt I could not
handle another argument about how big the logo should be in the bottom
right-hand corner of the poster.’ So it was fortuitous that a move to
Grey proved ill-fated and Burdett was ousted in 1994.
Joyce Taylor, the managing director of the Discovery Channel, is the
woman who gave Burdett his first break in media, as sales director for
United Artists Programming. ’We were looking for someone with a real
marketing eye,’ Taylor says. ’Richard has a good strategic sense and was
great at making really cogent arguments for why advertisers should buy
A professional self-promoter, Burdett is now full of the joys of CIA,
though why the job should appeal is perhaps not immediately obvious. OK,
he was unemployed when the agency approached him, after a spectacular
falling out with Flextech (UAP’s successor), but it seems Burdett was
not exactly short of offers. ’I really did think long and hard about
what I did next. CIA is not a distress purchase,’ he insists.
Instead, as a man forever with his eye on the main chance and on making
himself as marketable as possible, Burdett chose to add a further string
to his bow. ’If you ask where’s the best use of my collective skills at
the moment, the answer has to be at a media agency.’ If I had to guess
at his ambitions within CIA, I’d say they lie in the CIA network, in
international management. But, one step at a time, and CIA UK is not
quite striding forward at the moment.
The agency is delicately poised between healthy success and dismal
It’s pitching to retain three key pieces of business, including the
pounds 30 million Lloyds-TSB/ Cheltenham & Gloucester account (CIA
already has Lloyds-TSB), the pounds 18 million Kwik-Save/ Somerfield
centralised business (where CIA is the Somerfield incumbent) and its TV
division is fighting to retain the pounds 110 million BT TV buying
account. It’s not exactly a steady ship to be setting sail in, though as
Burdett points out: ’There’s no point going somewhere unless you can see
what the job is and if you overly worry about those sort of things,
you’d never go anywhere.’
Anyway, at least CIA has found itself greater management equilibrium
under the chief executive, Mike Elms, and the managing director, Alan
Brydon, who have thrown off many of the traits of the amorphous,
big-buying shop and are ready to embrace Burdett and his role as a way
of rounding-out the agency’s service to its clients.
Burdett will help CIA build its relationships with creative agencies (an
area where Burdett maintains many friends and fans), help steer the
agency’s strategic development (’media’s not just about hairy arsed
buying and thumping the table any more’), work on the communications
strategy of some CIA clients and, most urgently, perhaps, lend a hand on
It’s a loose brief, in many ways, and one that frees Burdett to work
across all of the agency’s business, having input whenever and wherever
necessary. ’There’s an incredible wealth of stuff there which hasn’t
been collectively fronted and given a sense of the agency’s - wank
brand-talk - CIA-ness,’ he explains.
And it’s a brief that appears to play to Burdett’s strengths. Talk to
former colleagues about the guy and a clear pattern emerges. Burdett is:
’very bright’, ’a smart, strategic thinker’, ’a top-class presenter’, ’a
great client man’, ’very polished’, ’eloquent’. ’I’m just glad he’s
short and supports Arsenal, otherwise he’d be too perfect,’ Flextech’s
sales director, Tony Wheble says. David Kershaw, a partner at M&C
Saatchi, says Burdett is a high-energy, thoroughly decent chap, adding:
’If his judgment in media is as good as his judgment in football, I’m
sure he’ll be a great success.’
Nevertheless, though universally described as a ’nice guy’, some
question whether he is a great manager. ’Richard’s pretty interested in
He’s very focused on what he wants and if you’re not of use to him, he
may at times be careless,’ one former boss admits. Others echo the
sentiment: ’Richard was so busy thinking about how things affected him,
he didn’t think about how they affected others,’ another says.
Burdett (a little too dapper for a media man) himself admits that he
could once have been accused of worrying too much about his own
’A few years ago, I would have said that what people thought about me
was the most important thing in my life. But now I don’t need to be
universally loved, although I’m surprised to hear myself say that.’And
if there is a criticism to be made it is perhaps that Burdett is a
little too like Brydon: thoughtful and nice, rather than tough.
But Burdett is unashamedly aspiring. ’I am ambitious, I want to run
something, I make no bones about that. I like to be seen to do well, and
to be part of a place that’s doing well,’ he explains.
And for the moment, it seems that his desires are most likely to be met
on the media side. ’I quite like the shape of my career,’ he muses. ’I
take no credit for it, because it’s a series of some happy and some less
happy accidents, but I really have found a new bit of the business that
I find very rewarding and very exciting.’
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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