Many in the industry, especially those who know him only by his reputation, were more than a little surprised when Tom George was revealed as the new managing director at Mediaedge:cia. Not so much for the fact that George has been astonishingly loyal to Zenith over more than 15 years -- it was widely assumed he was less than happy at the way senior management restructuring had panned out in the year since the arrival of Antony Young as the London operation's chief executive.
Nor was it entirely to do with the belief that, after losing a string of accounts including UIP, Gap and Wrigleys, Mediaedge:cia is a basket-case of an agency and the managing director's job is a hospital pass if ever there were one. Hadn't its last managing director, Matt James, left after four months to join Naked Ambition?
No, it was more to do with the perception of George as a one-trick pony, a man at the very top of the airtime trading tree, but basically still a time buyer for all that. When some people talk about George, they say he probably had the dubious distinction of being the most excited man in the media industry when the Competition Commission revealed the complex formula for Contracts Rights Renewal. "He has a maths degree and it often shows," one colleague says.
According to those who know him and especially those who have worked for him, this sort of take on George shows the extent you can pay for loyalty to a single agency.
As Graham Duff, now the managing director of ITV Sales but previously George's boss at Zenith, puts it: "If you stay in one place for a long time you are rarely given the credit you merit because you are always associated with previous roles. It's true that he's frighteningly intelligent and that most people associate him with the trading side of things but, the truth is, he's a bloody good client man and he's actually been more focused on that side of things."
"I hope I'm not blowing my own trumpet when I say I think I'm a good all-rounder," George echoes. In other words, underestimate him at your peril. What, though, about the nature of the challenge he has now set himself -- surely it is impossible to underestimate that? George responds: "Mediaedge:cia has had a tough time of late but all agencies have ups and downs. I'm going there with a fresh pair of eyes but I've learned a lot from our merger [the creation of ZenithOptimedia] and there are bound to be common threads."
His arrival coincides with the creation of Group M, headed by Nick Theakstone, which will oversee media trading and negotiations across all WPP media agencies, and it's clear that George takes up his new job on the clear understanding that that side of things will not cause him undue grief.
Actually, Group M might just free him up to deal with some of the other problems, not least morale.
George has always been popular for his dry Scouse wit and his image as a sharp-suited scally. He has been at Zenith "man and boy" since its launch in 1988, having previously been a member of the Dorlands media department, which formed one-third of the buying outfit when it launched. He's part of the furniture, a colleague says.
He is 43, lives in "Media Close" in Chiswick (with Ofcom's David Connolly among his neighbours), with wife and daughter in a house whose previous owner was the Big Brother presenter, Davina McCall. It is believed Davina left behind some extremely intimate photographs of herself, though George is coy about going on the record as to the exact nature of this material.
He's a practising Catholic (more so now that the question of his daughter's schooling is looming large), very keen on skiing and once a year links up with some old mates for a skiing trip to Canada.
As many in the industry will know, George has been through a tough time in his personal life. Back in October, his mother, his uncle and his brother's wife's mother and father were killed in a car accident in Liverpool and the aftermath has been demanding not just of George's time but of his emotions as litigation issues have unfolded.
Which is always going to put any work challenges he faces into perspective. The consensus is that he will make a real impact, leading selflessly from the front rather than attempting smoke-and-mirror quick fixes or empty rhetoric.
Greg Grimmer is a ZenithOptimedia colleague who also knows the issues George will face; Grimmer previously worked at CIA. "Some people argue that it can't fall any further. In some ways, it can only go one way now. It might help if the brand stood for something again and obviously it always helps if you win pitches. Tom knows how to do that. Actually, the thing it needs more than anything is stability. If, in a year's time, he can say he has delivered that, he will have succeeded," he states.
The George file
1991 Zenith Media, TV manager
1994 Zenith Media, TV director
1998 Zenith Media, head of TV
2002 Zenith Media, group account director
2003 ZenithOptimedia, deputy managing director
2004 Mediaedge:cia, managing director
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