THE MEDIA BARONS: Daryl Simm - Omnicom Media's president faces a massive challenge rolling out the international brand

Is it simply damn inconvenient that I've made it all the way to my off-Broadway hotel before Daryl Simm calls to cancel our meeting? Or is there something rather symbolic in the fact that the interview eventually takes place off Tottenham Court Road at New PHD?

Is it simply damn inconvenient that I've made it all the way to my off-Broadway hotel before Daryl Simm calls to cancel our meeting? Or is there something rather symbolic in the fact that the interview eventually takes place off Tottenham Court Road at New PHD?

So, what should have been a sunny New York afternoon, turns out to be a wet Wednesday evening in London. And what should have been a showcase meeting to underline OMD's international network credentials with a shiny new US flagship actually ends up in the London office of an agency which has eschewed the OMD network altogether. And demanded one of its own.

It's certainly ironic. Because in many ways New PHD (smart, successful, entrepreneurial, oh, and opinionated) is a totem for the challenge Simm has faced since taking the OMD helm. Simm's job ('from hell' would probably have been nodded through by trade descriptions) has been to pull Omnicom's disparate media offerings into a coherent network brand ... or two. As the president of Omnicom Media, Simm is knee deep in the sticky goo of creating two international media brands: OMD and PhD.

OK, uniting some of the world's most successful, innovative and muscular media operations into a first-class global network might sound like first prize in the Lucky Dip of international media jobs (running TN Media, expanding Media Planning, creating a brand personality for Optimedia). But there's no shortage of insiders lining up to whinge about the network, its international management and the politics with its sister agencies, TBWA, DDB and BBDO.

But Simm - ever positive - smiles through it all. He's fresh off a plane (give or take an intense meeting or two that afternoon) when we meet, though he's lost some of the twinkle that coloured his enthusiasm when he took up his role two years ago. Well, the enthusiasm's still there - a sort of textbook US businessman's enthusiasm ... relentless - and so is the affable charm. But he is looking a little frayed.

'Over the past 27 months I've been doing on average one country every 30 days, launching the OMD brand,' Simm explains. 'You go to a country, you introduce this new-media concept to the agencies, engage them, get them motivated to be part of a new kind of business and it's fine. You do that in one country, but you've still got 30 more to go. It really sucks it out of you. It really does.'

Simm, though, seems to have been tackling big international challenges since he was a pup. He made it to Procter & Gamble's worldwide head of media by 33 and by the time he left in 1998 he'd radically overhauled the FMCG giant's media approach, snatching US buying from the heart of the company and consolidating it into Starcom and MediaVest. It was his credentials as one of the most respected and progressive clients in US media that drew Omnicom to him in the first place and that give him a unique perspective; few other agency chiefs have seen life from the other side of the media cheque.

Even for such an experienced gun-slinger, the task of launching an international brand to a tight timeframe is bowel-loosening stuff. For Omnicom Media, though, all the right ingredients are there, in buckets: dollars 19-odd billion of global billings, 137 media operations in 71 countries.

Throw in some of the most coveted international media accounts (Pepsi, Henkel, Compaq, Sony) and top-five status in key markets and it's hunt the downside time.

But Omnicom's formidable strengths as a string of highly successful, entrepreneurial, creative-led agencies have not proved to be the easiest of formulae from which to craft a coherent media proposition. It's not as though any of the networks had ever seemed particularly proud of their media offering on the international stage, but persuading them to pool their media with that of their rival Omnicom sisters has been a delicate task. As Simm admits: 'The agencies' first reaction has been to say 'Hey, wait a second. I built this media department, I've cared for it, I've sweated over it, it's a vital part of my organisation'. Initially, our agency partners have been very cautious, very concerned.'

Which may explain why Omnicom has taken the softly, softly - but potentially crippling - route of keeping OMD on reins held tightly by the agencies themselves. Unlike some rival communications giants, Omnicom has chosen not to enshrine its media brand at the highest possible level as an operating company with equal status to the creative agencies. Instead, Omnicom's OMD is more rightly described as TBWA, DDB and BBDO's OMD. The three agencies are the shareholders in the media operation and hold its fate (and Simm's balls) in their hands.

So how does Simm manage to secure the right level of investment for OMD when its creative agency shareholders have their own, wider priorities?

Do TBWA, BBDO and DDB really impartially weigh their own desires for, say, a new heavyweight creative team with, say, OMD's drive to beef up its media research tools?

'It's my job to make a case for how much they should be investing in OMD,' Simm explains patiently. 'OMD makes recommendations to the agency shareholders about budgets and investment criteria.' So is that an easy conversation to have? 'I really don't want to go any further down that route of questioning,' Simm squirms, but quickly adds: 'I don't know of a single meeting we've had where the shareholders haven't been progressively open and accepting of the recommendations we've made.'

Of course, to be a true media partner, OMD will inevitably find itself making recommendations to clients that may end up depriving its agency shareholders of business, recommending a programme of product sampling, for example, rather than a big, glossy TV campaign. But here Simm is adamant that his company must have the freedom to keep the clients' and not the agencies' best interests at heart. 'If OMD's not in a position to do that, it won't survive. That freedom is the basis of making our business effective. If we can't do that, we don't deserve any clients.'

And he insists that relations with the agencies have progressively improved as OMD has been able to prove its worth. 'It's like a dad letting his kid take the new Mercedes for a spin. Once they've gone round the block a few times and it comes back unscratched then the trust factor goes up a little bit. So an advertiser that was a creative-only client becomes a media client too because we've been able to win them over with OMD. Or agencies suddenly see what OMD can add to their new-business pitches; everyone's working on each other's behalf after a while.'

Considering how difficult OMD seems to have found it to even keep some of its key media staff onside and in line (several fingers pointing here towards France and the UK), such a harmonious relationship with the creative agencies seems positively utopian. Wouldn't Simm really prefer it if OMD was an Omnicom group property, not the agencies'? 'That's sort of speculative and unreal.' He's getting a bit tetchy. 'Look, the creative agencies are the ones who made the initial media investment, they made the bet. It's absolutely conventional that there are shareholders in business to whom the management is accountable and I think that, with regard to OMD, this has been spun in a negative fashion, rather than a matter of conventional fact.'

His team are not all quite so comfortable with this state of affairs, though. 'OMD is counter-cultural to all that Omnicom stands for,' one says. 'Omnicom's philosophy is to let entrepreneurs simply get on with running their own, very successful, businesses. OMD needs to be about a concerted vision, across Omnicom agencies and across geographical borders. The agencies have the power over media, but the agencies don't want to be known for their media product, they want to be known for great creative work. Not even Henry Kissinger could sort this lot out.'

Omnicom favours a laissez-faire approach, empowering the agencies rather than charging in head first to shake-up the politics. A more pig-headed man than Simm might not have stayed around to wade through such a mire, but in many ways Simm is perfect for the job. He's very careful, very aware of where he puts his feet and he manages to talk a lot without saying anything controversial at all - huge, curly sentences that evaporate the minute you ask: 'What the bloody hell is he trying to say?' If Omnicom wants to craft a fine international media name out of its collection of media assets, then Simm is proving he can do the job. On the other hand, if Omnicom wants the best media operation in the world, able to stand as proud and confident as the leading communications companies out there, then a more aggressive solution is surely required.

Which may explain why Omnicom is now looking for someone to head the OMD network; as chief of Omnicom Media, Simm will span all of Omnicom's media assets but without being at the coalface. Arguably, this could be interpreted as a 'kicked upstairs' promotion for Simm, an indication that Omnicom's chief executive, John Wren, is finally rolling up his sleeves and gritting his teeth to get the agencies focussed on their media brand. But, having sweated over the international foundations, perhaps Simm needs to take a more objective perspective, particularly when those foundations need some strategic texture on top.

In the meantime, Simm keeps his head down, frustrating the more aggressively ambitious of his media executives, inevitably treading on the toes of the creative agencies, but getting the basic job done. From the messy division between the Optimum Media and Media Direction names, OMD is now the main global brand. It is up and running in the US and it's established in the UK through the rebranding of the BMP DDB media offering. OMD's recent failure to snare the pan-European Nike business highlights the holes.

'We've got the bricks and mortar in place,' Simm explains, but he admits there's still much to do: 'We need to be more successful, frankly, from an international new-business standpoint. The brand, too, needs to become stronger, more recognisable, more meaningful. That's why we need a dedicated front-end OMD chief, to push that forward.'

In tandem with OMD, Simm has been forced to create another media network to house the more independently minded and strategically focussed agencies, led by New PHD in the UK. It's not much of a network, PhD. Apart from New PHD, there's HYPN and Creative Media in North America and a couple of other bits and bobs. It seems a bit of a sop, really. An admission that not all of Omnicom's eclectic assets are prepared to sacrifice their identity under a uniform OMD umbrella, nor, for that matter, place their fate entirely in Simm's hands. They're all great brands, fantastic assets, but put OMD and PhD alongside each other and the whole still seems less than the sum of its parts.

Even so, Simm is now stretching his horizons towards a broader communications offering from the Omnicom Media axis. Despite being caught in the creative agencies' net, Simm is building his stock beyond the ex-media departments and has his eye on adding one or two complimentary services to his portfolio.

'We've expanded our thinking of how we can bring more assets to sit alongside OMD and PhD to enhance the capabilities and business opportunities of those two brands. Within the Omnicom group we already have a couple of separate companies that do things like programming, sports marketing and so on and we have plans to bring those closer to the media structure.

So, as the media business evolves, it really becomes a gateway into the Omnicom organisation.' At last - something that is a bit visionary, a bit confident, a bit ambitious: a strategy which has the guts to look beyond the wearisome jobs of dealing with the creative agencies, renaming a media department, introducing a new letterhead; a vision which looks towards a more empowering role for the group.

Ah ha, Mr Simm, but does this mean that Omnicom Media might just start to rival your agency shareholders in terms of the broad communications advice you'll be offering to clients? 'Well ... I guess anything's possible.

From a media advocate standpoint, we think that the future is extremely bright and the growth potential is very high.' Which is about as ballsy as it gets.