Media Headliner: From Tory drag queen to IAB chief executive

Guy Phillipson is a born frontman - as a cross-dressing stand-up, for bands and now for online advertising.

They don't make them like Guy Phillipson any more. Or if they do, they certainly don't allow them anywhere near the media and advertising industries. This business used to be the last refuge of lovable rogues and scoundrels; now it is seen as the natural habitat of MBA graduates, many of whom have a worrying tendency to flip into incomprehensible marketing speak, almost despite themselves.

We're not implying that Phillipson is a rogue or a scoundrel - far from it, in fact - but he certainly graduated from a more old-fashioned finishing school. Classically trained in piano and composition at London's Trinity College of Music, he embarked on a colourful career as a gigging musician in West End pubs and clubs.

An accomplished frontman and piano player (with guitar as an optional extra) he was, during one exhausting period, in three working bands. Now that's what you call moonlighting. And how many people in this business can say they've fronted at Ronnie Scott's?

We're not even going to mention the fact that at one stage he was also developing a drag stand-up act, a less-than-conventional Conservative Party stalwart called Gooseberry Tart.

But the long and the short of it is that he's always been an accomplished presenter and frontman. After all, he's been showing off since the age of ten. "By the time I was 22, I knew no fear, no matter how big the audience," he says. "In fact, I get far more nervous standing up in front of five or six."

It's a talent that is coming to the fore again in Phillipson's career.

One hundred days ago, he was appointed the chief executive of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, now rebranded as the Internet Advertising Bureau. This was after having parted company with Vodafone, where he occupied one of the most significant positions in UK marketing as the mobile phone operator's head of advertising.

He had a budget of around £60 million to play with and during his five-and-a-half years in the job, he was responsible for an awesome output of ads - most notably, perhaps, those featuring David Beckham. He'd probably still be there now (Guy, that is) if it wasn't for a corporate restructure that would have reduced his direct influence on the company's advertising.

Phillipson was known for his intense and detailed involvement in the creative process, from early planning days to the final shoot. By and large, this was seen by his agencies as a sensitive, intelligent contribution to the creative process, as opposed to pernickety meddling.

He admits that throughout his career he's suffered from the proverbial seven-year itch. Before Vodafone, he'd spent roughly that period at each of The Marketing Store, Barclays Bank and Granada Group, his first encounter with the marketing profession.

One way or another, it's all to the good as far as the IAB is concerned.

At Vodafone, his presentational skills were largely confined to conference platforms - now, as the frontman for an entire industry, they will doubtless blossom again before a wider audience.

Last week, he published his five-point plan - the results of his first 100 days in the job, a period spent getting out and about, coming to grips with advertiser perceptions of the online ad business. The plan will focus on helping advertisers to understand online consumer behaviour, persuading them to use search optimisation more effectively and educating them about the brand-building strengths of rich media delivered via broadband, while pledging to develop a common planning currency.

It's sound stuff and many will agree with Douglas McArthur, the chief executive of the Radio Advertising Bureau, that Phillipson is "the right man in the right place at the right time". Because, of course, he's on to a surefire winner here, with online advertising growing so rapidly - driven, some might suggest, by historical forces way beyond the relatively modest influence of marketing men.

Every little helps, though. And it must feel good to find yourself sitting aboard a racing certainty. But surely he misses the buzz of overseeing the output of one of the country's most prolific advertisers? The exotic locations, the chit-chat with the likes of Beckham.

"I don't think anyone can accuse me of being a luvvie or a groupie," he responds, "but I have always loved seeing a big idea through to the end. Yes, I offer flamboyance and enthusiasm but, equally importantly, I hope I offer substantial marketing skills and insight."

Bob Wootton, the director of media and advertising affairs at ISBA, is a friend, an accomplished musician in his own right, and a long-term colleague of Phillipson on various ISBA media committees. It was Wootton who helped persuade Phillipson the IAB job was going to be a meaty challenge.

He says: "He's a real catch for the IAB. He has a knack of getting through the serious stuff in a light and enjoyable way. But he's no lightweight - for years he managed a £60 million budget, when he must have faced constant questioning from Vodafone stakeholders about the way it was being spent.

He has always held his own in that environment.

"He has enormous credibility in the marketing world. That will help open doors. But it's true - he's a wonderful piano player too."

THE LOWDOWN

Age: 45

Lives: Oxford

Family: Wife Rebecca (photographer), daughter Susannah, 13, Twiglet

(cat)

Favourite ad: Hamlet cigars "photo booth"

Describe yourself in three words: Charismatic, original, funny

Greatest extravagance: Steinway grand piano

Favourite book: How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen by

Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake

Living person you most admire: Frankie Dettori

Personal motto: Life's a performance