Media Perspective: PHD needs period of tranquility to move the agency forward

What's up down at PHD? A frequently asked question in recent days as members of its management team were seen scrambling for the parachutes.

First, PHD Group lost Laurence Munday and Simon George, the founders of its sponsorship and content division Drum. Then, just last week, the planning brains behind its PHD Rocket agency, Mark "Pocket Rocket" Sherwood, made a jump for the planning department of the ad agency Lowe.

More than unfortunate perhaps when you consider that both John Murray, the managing director of the digital division PHDiq, and Mark Holden, PHD's executive planning director, left for jobs in Australia earlier this year. In May, the last remaining founder, Jonathan Durden, officially left (though some say he had departed in spirit rather earlier).

The old guard began to move on last year when the executive chairman Tess Alps departed for Thinkbox and then the founder and PHD Worldwide chief executive David Pattison announced he would be joining i-level Group.

Since then, Morag Blazey, the chief executive, hasn't been idle: promoting Daren Rubins to the managing director role she previously occupied and Jonathan Fowles to Holden's vacated planning position. However, within a fortnight of the announcement, PHD had lost the BBC, one of its flagship accounts.

While it would be hard to imagine that the absence of Durden and Pattison has had a colossal impact on PHD, the other departures could be more damaging if the gaps aren't plugged. Progress has been made. New managing partners have been appointed in the shape of Starcom's Luca Margarito and Mediaedge:cia's Ian Redman, while Drum PHD looks to be in good hands, with Mark Eaves stepping up to the role of managing director. His strong branded content experience seems to be a natural fit with the way the business is moving.

In some ways, this has been a year of natural regeneration for PHD after losing these key staff and spending much of 2006 helping Omnicom to launch its brand in new markets. But it could be tough for Blazey and her senior team (which also includes the chief strategy officer, Louise Jones) to live up to its ambitious, difficult-to-maintain "pioneering" positioning. There's been a significant structural change since 2005, when PHD built up such a run of form that it won Campaign's Media Agency of the Year Award. That is the creation of an Omnicom Media Group structure in the UK, which involves Blazey and her OMD counterpart Steve Williams reporting to Philippa Brown, OMG's new chief executive.

It will be interesting to see how this change tests the patience and commitment of Blazey and her team as possible tensions surface. More senior departures at this stage would be damaging to PHD's future progress.

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