Media: Behind the hype - PHD tries to regain ground via 'pioneering' rebrand

PHD's repositioning takes in office changes and training staff, Pippa Considine says.

PHD is now officially "the pioneering agency". In a move to reassert itself, the agency group is repositioning with a declaration to the outside world, the announcement of a couple of initiatives and an internal schedule of personal coaching for its 200 or so staff designed to turn ethos into actions.

Having had a bit of a bad time of it lately, losing accounts including Weetabix, HSBC, Pizza Hut and O2, it seems like good timing for the agency to be giving itself a jump start. But the idea of going back to the agency's roots has been mulled over for many months. It's part of a new regime at the agency, which was marked by the appointment last year of Mark Holden to the newly created position of executive planning director and Louise Jones to the role of executive strategy director.

It also comes just after the Omnicom-owned media agencies OMD UK, Manning Gottlieb OMD and PHD Group decided to pool their media negotiations to create the UK's largest buying point, OPera. "Having created OPera, we can now start to place more emphasis on the product," Holden says.

So what will this new positioning mean for PHD, apart from a shiny new logo?

The idea is to focus the company on its pedigree. PHD has been an innovator in the industry, notably as an early advocate of media-neutral planning. But in the past decade, strategic consultancies and mainstream agencies took on board the same thinking and PHD lost ground.

The agency has decided that now is the moment to get back ahead.

Holden explains the pioneering positioning was an obvious one, given the company's record of getting in ahead with new initiatives and launches.

"MediaCom is 'closer to clients', BJK&E is 'business first', so we needed something like that and part of the PHD brand is that we were first," he says.

PHD is backing up the talk with a number of initiatives, which it says demonstrates its pioneering ability. One is to train its planners in the area of neuroplanning - using the latest findings on cognitive neuroscience to inform the communications planning process.

It has also liberated parts of its offices. Needless to say, the reception is being given a new coat of paint, but there's also a new area called The Living Room, which is dedicated to qualitative research. All PHD planners will be trained as group facilitators.

A client drop-in zone has been designed, influenced by an executive airport lounge, and is aimed at clients and potential clients alike. Last, for the planners, there is the Alpha Space, where they can go to mull over thorny media conundrums in comfort.

Of course, it's not the first agency to repackage and give itself a tagline.

Tony Manwaring, the communications planning director at Initiative, while agreeing that it's good for an agency to give itself a boost when needed, is a "little hacked off" with the sound of agency positioning statements ringing in the industry air. "It sounds like smoke and mirrors," he says.

"Everybody should be looking for innovative, pioneering solutions. That's what we're paid to do."

Gerry Boyle, the managing director of ZenithOptimedia, says: "The slight worry with this specific repositioning is that there's a hint of desperation to recapture the era of success when the agency was arguably truly pioneering. Our sector has moved on a huge amount since then and many of us have been pioneering in new, fresh and exciting areas.

"That said, PHD has a number of talented people and I truly hope the repositioning is a success for them. The key will be ensuring that the claim to be pioneers is backed up through attitude, behaviour and, ultimately, breakthrough work."

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