NEWSMAKER/PHIL GEORGIADIS: Initiative chief’s move throws caution to the wind - What made Phil Georgiadis choose Walker Media over security?

By the end of October, 1997 had already been a good year for Phil Georgiadis, the chief executive of Initiative Media. The agency had gained pounds 100 million in new business, its staff numbers were up by a third and the company was preparing to move to new premises to seal a rejuvenated existence as something much more than the old Unilever buying shop label that had dogged its potential for so long.

By the end of October, 1997 had already been a good year for Phil

Georgiadis, the chief executive of Initiative Media. The agency had

gained pounds 100 million in new business, its staff numbers were up by

a third and the company was preparing to move to new premises to seal a

rejuvenated existence as something much more than the old Unilever

buying shop label that had dogged its potential for so long.



In the best traditions of ’fuck me’ stories, less than a month later

Georgiadis’s life is about to turn around, cosy success exchanged for

starting from scratch. He’s off to join the fledgling Walker Media as a

partner in a move that left industry jaws flapping when revealed in

Campaign last week.



For someone famed for his considered deliberations, his need to think

around every subject from every angle - twice, it’s all happened rather

quickly. It knocked Georgiadis for the proverbial six. ’I’ve been

driving quite happily down a motorway quite fast and this just hit me

going the other way, saying ’do you fancy that?’.’ Brave and bold, it’s

not that you wouldn’t expect such spirit of adventure from a retentive

like Georgiadis, just that you wouldn’t expect it now, in the midst of

Initiative’s triumph and opportunity.



Yet if there’s no right time to leave a company where you’re its chief

executive, there can be no better time than when you’re ahead. Over the

past couple of years, Georgiadis has proved himself one of the most

respected practitioners in the media industry. All of his restructuring

- which at times seemed as fruitful as rearranging deckchairs on the

Titanic - was finally paying off at the amorphous Initiative Media. A

new management line-up, though hardly brimming with sparkling, sexy

names, had created a solid backbone, and the agency came from behind to

snatch the most attractive account of the year, the hefty pounds 90

million Peugeot Citroen media. Georgiadis was on a mighty roll.



Initiative’s chairman, Marie-Jose Forissier, said last week she was sad

to see Georgiadis go, but understood his desire to do his own thing

’Phil’s still young and felt this was the right move for him. But he’s

done great things at Initiative. He’s built the company into an

extremely strong operation.’



So Georgiadis is giving up the chance of a long career in the

Interpublic Group (Initiative’s parent company), his whopping bonus

(pounds 100 million of new business brings its own personal pat on the

back), and even on the best estimates of Walker Media’s performance, his

old chief executive salary will be just a happy memory for quite some

time.



I catch Georgiadis and Walker in the cow-eyed days of whirlwind romance,

mutual praise bubbles from their lips and the blunt, straight-talking

Walker is happy to indulge Georgiadis’s loquacity. Both are shrewd

enough to play the advantages of their professional differences and are

confident this will also work on a personal level.



The two first met back in 1983, when Walker was on the interview panel

that hired Georgiadis at Benton & Bowles. ’But we don’t particularly

know each other very well, we’re not cosy, we’re not mates,’ Walker

admits.



Her nearest and dearest industry chums have already warned Georgiadis

that she’s mad, and Georgiadis wears his ’flaws’ (he’s emotional,

verbose, too honest) like a big label on his forehead. So there are few

surprises in store.



After quitting her post as the chief executive of Zenith Media, Walker

had been looking for a partner. She wanted a media practitioner with

integrity (this is a woman who aims high), and someone who could help

shape the agency’s proposition. ’It didn’t take me long to think of

Phil,’ she explains.



’He has pretty much got what I haven’t. I have a sort of gut instinct,

Phil is a deep thinker and, in terms of shaping our own proposition and

helping clients shape their thinking, Phil gives that added

dimension.’



Crucially, it’s only two weeks after the initial discussions and the duo

is already starting to sound like a team. They are developing a clear

positioning, which is, in fact, almost the antithesis of what we’ve come

to expect from the notion of ’positioning’ in the media market. As

Georgiadis explains: ’Other than saying it’s about people, it’s about

service, it’s about ideas, I don’t think we’ll get any more complicated

than that. It’s not an exclusive proposition, it’s inclusive. A lot of

companies set up and try to define themselves with some exclusive

proposition because they’re frightened of saying they can do the whole

thing.’



But, in a market where volume is generally perceived to be a

pre-requisite, can a start-up without muscle really compete? It’s a

question Georgiadis anticipates. ’The reason Initiative won Peugeot had

nothing to do with volume, technology and systems, it was all about

people and ideas.’



’Look at the TV market now, discounts are getting tighter but still

everyone can get a discount, it’s a game,’ Walker begins, and Georgiadis

continues: ’At the negotiation level - which everyone assumes is wrapped

up and all about strategy - there is a huge amount of inadequacy in the

way deals are being done. Can Walker Media do it any differently? We’ll

be talking to media owners on behalf of our clients - who will mean a

lot to us, who are not just another bit on the spreadsheet, we will be

able to offer clients communication where they need it and at a price

that is both acceptable and competitive.



’The difference will be that we will not be bound into those historical

commitments and agency arrangements. Clout can actually be a very

dangerous thing. In any situation you’ve got to be able to say no. None

of the big buying points can say no, because when they say no they have

to be able to do so on behalf of all their clients. Experience, people

and good ideas will see us through.’



Nick Milligan, the sales director of Channel 5, says he remembers PHD

saying something similar, and it worked for them. He adds: ’Outside

work, Phil is a very deep and emotional guy who places Olivia (his

daughter) and his friends above everything else. His immense integrity

is so rare. This is a dream job for him and I hope it puts the smile

back on his face.’



For two old timers, clocking up 35 years in the industry between them,

Walker and Georgiadis are certainly managing to radiate real excitement,

even a few giggles. After years of serving the industry giants, they’re

pioneers again and there’s a sense of release from the binds of the

moribund corporate structure. As Walker says: ’What you’ve got in the

media market now is a whole series of dependants who jump when they’re

told to jump - who aren’t independent - and the negative energy is

unbelievable. There are loads of demoralised people who are, in the

main, overpaid - it’s like ’just take the money and shut up’. You

haven’t got inspired media practitioners, you’ve got media

politicians.’



Walker Media will be different. ’The key is making the whole process

easier for clients, not using the complexity of the market as a weapon

against them,’ Georgiadis explains. ’We’ll create simplicity out of

complexity and make sure that the people we hire can see the wood for

the trees. We’ll have a very simple model of how to get the right brief

from clients, then service the hell out of them.’



The idea, he adds, is to bring the marketing plan closer to the media

plan and, vice versa, to bring the consumer of the media closer to the

consumer of the client’s product. At the moment, Georgiadis claims, many

of the mechanisms of media trading serve only to drive them further

apart.



Finally, it’s all about enjoying what you do. It’s a week after he

resigned and Georgiadis, usually something of a worrier, is on a

high.



’It’s brilliant. I’m really exhilarated by it all and I’ve not had a

single moment of doubt,’ - another first for Georgiadis. Then he spoils

it all by adding: ’I’m sure the reality will sink in at some point,’

but, even so, I can feel the smile coming down the phone.



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