Feature

PHD's reluctant superstar emerges into the light

Called the 'backbone' of PHD, publicity shy Morag Blazey helped turn the fortunes of the agency around.

We have been guilty of overlooking Morag Blazey over the years. But this has absolutely nothing to do with her diminutive stature. You've all heard the jokes. How she saves money due to the fact that she still fits into (zero VAT rated) children's clothes and how there's a year missing from her CV - when she was lost down the back of the PHD sofa.

In 1997, when she was in her mid-thirties, Blazey made history (and this one's no joke, it's absolutely true), by becoming the oldest ever mascot in the annals of football mascot-dom when she led out her heroes wearing the QPR blue-and-white hoops before their match against Birmingham City. She was announced on the Tannoy as Morag Blazey, aged 12-and-three-quarters, and no-one spotted anything amiss - apart, that is, from star striker Trevor Sinclair, and he only twigged when she attempted to snog him.

But enough of the size-ist references. The main reason why we've struggled to chart Blazey's career within these pages is the simple fact that she's seemingly so media-shy. We've lost count here at Campaign of the number of times she's failed to return our calls.

Happily, though, this isn't one of those occasions - which is good, because we want to talk to her about her promotion from managing director to chief executive of PHD. There's no way she can get out of this one, really, but right from the off you can sense her cringing inwardly about the whole business.

But why? She's not exactly shy - and is a brilliant presenter. She's not exactly inarticulate. And it's not as though she's aloof or anything - she loves a good gossip. There's no rational reason for her more-than-acceptable modesty, she admits, although she does try to come up with some flannel about wanting the team to take the credit.

The closest we come to the real reason is her confession that she's ashamed of the antics of some of the industry's worst egotists - and would rather die than be bracketed with them. Blazey has a finely attuned sense of the ridiculous - and in that respect, her sense of humour, which is legendary, is probably too well developed for her to live comfortably with some of the conventions of the media industry.

Blazey is painfully aware of the pickle you can get yourself into if you take yourself too seriously - and the potential for self-parody that arises when you're asked to fill in questionnaires asking you to reveal things such as "your personal motto".

So, yes, she likes her comedy. She's a huge fan of offbeat TV programmes such as Green Wing and unwittingly hilarious trash TV - she recommends Towers of London, for instance, playing on Bravo.

And she takes a gleefully Ronnie Barkerish delight in spoonerisms and fanciful comic embellishments on people's names. And places too - she refers to the village she lives in, near Tring, as Little Piddlington.

A quicksilver intelligence shines through everything Blazey says - and each time she develops a new theme or strikes off in a different direction, it can be hard for your average dull-witted journalist to keep up. She reads voraciously, apparently, but pleads that we don't try to make her out to be some kind of intellectual. Which, presumably, would come across as being dreadfully pretentious.

She also asked us not to do the heightist jokes, too. Sorry, Morag. Couldn't resist it. But at least we haven't repeated the assertion from a previous piece that you can occasionally be "spiky".

It slowly dawns that the flippancy and self-deprecation is probably designed to distract the world (the world outside of PHD, that is) from the fact that she takes her job and the well-being of the agency very seriously indeed.

And indeed, the briefest of chats with those who know Blazey confirms this to be the case. She's ferociously loyal to PHD, which she first joined in 1994, following spells at CDP Media, then Bartle Bogle Hegarty. She's worked her way to the top of the agency, slowly and steadily - and that's perhaps another reason why she has consistently slipped below our radar.

Jonathan Durden, now the last of the founders to have an involvement, calls her "the backbone of the agency", adding that she does the things that aren't always popular, but absolutely need doing - and implies that it is a mark of quiet strength that she doesn't feel the need to take the credit.

And actually, more credit is due than you'd think. As David Pattison and Durden drew back from day-to-day affairs in the London office, and the then agency chairman, Tess Alps, was seeking a new career outlet, Blazey has had more and more say in running the agency. In fact, you could argue, she's been de facto chief executive since the departure of Nick Horswell (he was the first of the founders to leave) in 2002.

And the astonishing "phoenix from the flames" recovery of the agency during that period is largely down to her - although, of course, she's prepared to argue the toss about this. "The agency is in the position it is because of teamwork," she says, "and that's absolutely the way it's going to be going forward."

Three or four years ago, PHD was doing loads of repitching and barely clinging on to a handful of wobbly accounts. Then it started to lose business and there were those who believed the agency had lost its way, too. They were wrong.

Louise Jones (the executive strategy director) and Mark Holden (the executive planning director) take great credit for ensuring that the agency had the nerve to rediscover its classic virtues, centred on quality thinking - but by the same measure, it's Blazey who must take ultimate accolades. It was Campaign's Media Agency of the Year last year.

So, surely, now, she will find it almost impossible to deflect attention from herself. After all, she has certain duties now as the chief executive. Reluctantly, Blazey agrees. Every new phase of your career requires you to learn new skills, she admits.

Obviously, we'll soon see, especially as she says she'll be ready to bring forward restructuring plans (minor, but significant) in a matter of weeks. And who knows, fingers crossed, when the time eventually does come, the media-friendly Blazey may even pluck up the courage to tell us about them.

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