Pattison Horswell Durden launched at the start of 1990 in direct
response to the advent of huge process-driven media buying
conglomerates, such as Zenith Media. By that time Zenith, which launched
in 1988 as the UK's first media operation serving a whole ad agency
group, was proving the sceptics wrong. The future, many argued, was
about a handful of big volume buyers trying to leverage the hell out of
It wasn't the kind of future P, H or D wanted to be part of and the rug
was about to be pulled from under their feet. In a complex corporate
manoeuvre the media departments of WCRS (where Pattison and Durden were
joint media directors) and FCO (where Horswell was sole media director)
were about to be folded into Carat.
They didn't reckon there'd be much room for creative thinking and
elegant craft skills in the new consolidated environments so they
decided to branch out and become the Bartle Bogle Hegarty of the media
specialist world. (Pattison worked under John Bartle at TBWA in the
early 80s and regarded him as a mentor.)
They set out to prove that small was beautiful and clients would not
just get the best in tailormade media solutions, they'd get the
principals fully involved on their accounts. They settled into clear
roles: Durden the boy wonder; Pattison the worrier who lived and
breathed the detail; and Horswell as older brother, the calming
influence and the one with gravitas.
The three complemented each other wonderfully and in the 90s, PHD
emerged as one of the market's most successful brands. So successful,
that it has outgrown its early idealism. PHD has, of course, been
absorbed by Omnicom and has grown almost as big as the players it
reacted against when it launched. But its attempts to build its own
international network have been largely unsuccessful.
Is its market positioning as clear as it was? Where does it go from
Can it survive independently in just one market? Should it refocus on
the small-is-beautiful ethos?
Horwell's departure will put those questions into sharp focus and he
will be watching developments with interest, we can be sure. Here, the P
and the D of PHD assess his impact on the business and wish him
Horswell the man, by Jonathan Durden
Nick Horswell is my oldest friend. I usually try to mix with younger
people. It is hard to write this sort of piece without it sounding like
an obituary. In Nick's case this would be particularly inappropriate as
he has had a habit of reinventing himself throughout the 23 years I have
been with him. He is just deciding that life is too slow with twins on
the way and three other children of 21, 19 and 18 months. What he needs
is a challenge.
I first met him in 1978, when he was the media director of FGA. Bearded,
witty and a faint whiff of garlic, these were the original
characteristics that I still recognise in him. That and his deep wisdom
He taught me to appreciate fine wines in an intensive six-week course,
thoughtfully arranged by ITV during its 1979 strike.
Nick is very conscious of how he is perceived. When I bought my first
car at PHD it was a bright red Toyota MR2. He had to borrow it one
Never did a man look more desperate not be recognised. He is all Audi,
Patek Phillippe and Notting Hill. His only tacky indulgence is grubby
Greek restaurants which he visits with me and David. Even then he has
He is my mentor, coaching me through my career, as a close friend and
life confidante. I'm sure there are dozens of people who will recount a
similar role that Nick has played for them.
He is the master of having the idea and then getting you to believe it
was all yours. While this sounds manipulative, it is more akin to a
benevolent dictatorship. He is responsible for more change and radical
thought than anyone would probably give him credit for. But I know him
too well. I can read his wry smile. He is the best.
Horswell the adman, by David Pattison
There was one point where PHD was nearly PD or DP before John Ayling
persuaded us to talk to Nick Horswell. Jonathan knew him very well and I
didn't know him at all. There then followed a courtship process between
Nick and myself, the worst of it being that it started like a blind
Nick, of course, handled it with skill, decency and a lot of long words
that I pretended to understand.
In the early stages of PHD, Nick was the glue that held everything
together, kept everybody's feet on the ground and looked after the
financial health of the business. I don't remember him ever saying no to
our requests - tactically pointing out the potential error of our ways
maybe, but never no.
The company worked (and still works) because of the chemistry between
the three of us. We never seemed to really have fixed roles or fixed
We would take turns to be the mediator, or have the extreme views, but
would always reach agreed consensus. Nick's greatest skill was to make
it always feel like you had the idea yourself when, in fact, he had
seeded it at some point in the past. He also forced us to look at
ourselves and the business on a regular basis.
PHD will not really realise what it has lost until he isn't there.
Personally I will miss him like hell and thank him for being a partner
and a fantastic friend. PHD would have been less fun, less successful
and a lesser company without him.
Finally, a word of warning to anyone who works with him in the future:
if he says he is "disappointed" you really have upset him.