By Ian Darby, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 07 December 2007 12:00AM
The Universal McCann media network hasn't had the easiest of times over the past few years. However, on the upside, it has been notable for investing significant amounts in digital.
And, in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the man responsible for driving this was Damian Blackden, its executive vice-president and director of strategic marketing technologies. An intelligent, sparky personality with a highly focused work ethic, Blackden will undoubtedly be missed by Universal.
After two years in this particular job (seven in total at Universal), Blackden is upping sticks to join Omnicom Media Group in a similar one - albeit with the bigger trainset of heading digital for Omnicom's two networks, OMD and PHD, across the EMEA region. Having previously reported to Graham Duff, Universal's president in EMEA, he will now work for Colin Gottlieb, OMG's chief executive in the same region.
Blackden is adamant he's moving for all the right reasons, rather than because of any dissatisfaction with the situation Universal finds itself in: "I've been at Universal for seven years and fancied a change. I admire Colin Gottlieb a lot and can learn a lot from him. Omnicom is a class act, but there is still an opportunity to make a difference there. It wasn't an active decision to leave, because the Universal EMEA team Graham's put together is fantastic to work with."
Having worked with technology-led clients such as Intel and Microsoft at Universal, Blackden says that OMG has similar opportunities with clients such as Sony and Apple. His task, as president, digital, for OMG, will be to decide how to allocate resources across networks: attempting to develop the digital product and making it better while doing "sexy work".
"Everybody knows about social networking and the power of engagement, but only a handful of people are doing it," he says. "Digital is not currently a great high-margin business, so we have to prove that the product is differentiated."
Blackden comes to the role with a strong and varied CV. He started at Zenith Media with a traditional planning and buying background, then gained the experience of launching a digital brand (Zenith Interactive Solutions) and of running an agency (he was the joint chief executive of Universal McCann London between 2003 and 2005) before returning to the digital specialism.
He is sharp in analysing digital trends, and is enthusiastic about the international dimension that digital naturally occupies. He is especially excited by what he calls the "empowerment" element of digital marketing, and also feels that mobile could finally be in a position to take off. "It's such a good opportunity for media agencies generally because we have the consumer insights, and when it comes to execution, the consumer is where the media is, and we all have the analytics tools in place," Blackden says.
His new boss, Gottlieb, believes that the industry is going through a transition period, from the old to a new media model. He says of Blackden: "I wanted an outstanding talent who could work directly with me across all our businesses to successfully drive this transition. Someone who has a deep understanding of both models, someone who has run a successful office and therefore understands the business of media. Someone who is charismatic and has proven ability to deal with clients at the highest level, and someone who is hungry to succeed. For me, Damian delivers all these things. He's a challenging character, but that's why I wanted him. I know he'll thrive in our environment."
This assessment of his character is borne out by those who have worked with Blackden. He's described as having done an excellent job in creating a consistent digital offering for Universal, taking an uneven picture with markets at different levels and providing a high level of uniformity.
To do this, he has required vision to go with what colleagues describe as an intense drive and ambition. So he should work well alongside the relentless Gottlieb. One source says of Blackden: "Perhaps his people management skills leave a bit to be desired; he's not quite abrasive, but his manner can be a little off-putting to some. But this probably comes because he's so ambitious to get the job done. He's a director rather than a mentor."
Blackden feels that his time running the Universal London office as the joint chief executive (alongside Andy Jones, who is now the sole chief executive) will stand him in good stead when dealing with the heads of local markets, because he believes implementation of a vision is the important thing.
"There's a lot of dressing things up. A strategy can be very straightforward, it's executing it that is the hard part. It's essential to integrate digital, but the challenge is how to do this. I think comms planning is the starting point," he says.
And he believes that the new role has come at the right time: "I like change; doing the same thing, you can feel yourself stagnating a bit. You have to get outside a comfort zone, and, in digital, I'm dealing with ambiguity and making decisions based on incomplete information. Doing the chief executive role at Universal helped massively in terms of giving me the ability to make decisions."
Lives: Clapham, South-West London
Family: Wife, Erminia, and five-year-old daughter, Faith
Most treasured possession: My health
Favourite gadget: Panerai watch, recently given to me by Mrs Blackden
Last book read: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
Motto: Always on.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk