CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER - JOHN POORTA. D'Arcy planning chief takes merged agency's helm

John Poorta's new job is to bolster Burnett's planning reputation.

John Poorta is an unconventional planning man known for his easy manner, buttoned-up cardigans, some deeply unfashionable sports jackets and his ability to attract business from COI Communications, the UK's biggest advertiser.

Despite his relative maturity - "for a man in his 50s it is to his credit that he doesn't pretend to be a young man," one colleague says - his move from D'Arcy to Leo Burnett proves he's not ready to don his retirement slippers just yet.

As the mist begins to clear around the merger of D'Arcy and Leo Burnett, one of the first firm management roles to emerge was Poorta's as planning director, taking over from Leo Burnett's Miranda Forestier-Walker.

Few were surprised that Poorta was offered the job. Indeed, it's rumoured D'Arcy's former managing director, Barry Cook, only agreed to take the chairman's role if he could bring Poorta with him. Certainly, Cook and Poorta are close and Poorta admits he wanted to work with Cook if he could.

Poorta's career, like his dress sense, is unconventional, despite having spent the past 25 years of his life at D'Arcy. He got into advertising from the client side - he had previously worked in the advertising department of Tesco but found this experience unfulfilling. "I'd got bored of this and went bumming around Europe," he says.

By the time he returned to the UK, agencies were crying out for people with retail experience and Poorta landed a job on the Co-op account at the then Masius Wynne-Williams & D'Arcy MacManus.

He started out as an account man, working on briefs including Mars and Seeley beds, and rose steadily through the ranks to gain a place on the board. But it was after a decade in this position that Poorta realised planning was his passion. "I'm more interested in brand needs than client needs," he explains.

It was here that Poorta learnt his craft under the tutorship of Max Burt.

"John made a real impression," Burt says.

This unusual combination of client-facing skills and planning credentials made him the obvious choice to take the reins of the planning department when Burt left in 2000.

He inherited a very healthy department and it is to his credit that he kept the quality of its work and its reputation as high as it was under Burt. "D'Arcy's planning department has produced some great planners and Poorta has done a great job in keeping it good," Chris Palangat, D'Arcy's European board account director, says.

People who have worked with Poorta testify to his decency, humility, ability to get on with people, his love of his craft and his understanding of brands. While these are undoubtedly worthy qualities in a planner, it leads some to question how well suited he is to a management role. "People are important to me and I'd hate to think that all I did was run the department," he concedes.

He admits that first and foremost his heart is in his craft. "There is no question that I am a planner - I love doing it but there is no issue with the management. My style is through encouraging others rather than being a visionary," he says.

However, the success he has achieved since taking over D'Arcy's planning department - one of the strongest in the industry - demonstrates his capability.

Poorta's account management experience means he is good with clients, and nowhere is this more important than with COI, which last year billed £33 million through D'Arcy. He is seen as key to the merged agency's relationship with the organisation and Peter Buchanan, the acting chief executive of COI, can't seem to get enough of him: "John Poorta is one of the very best planning directors in London. He's particularly good at our kind of work and has an understanding of social issues."

Buchanan admits to the importance of the rapport that Poorta has developed with COI. "Over the years he's been central to our relationship with D'Arcy and he's managed to gain respect from the government departments," he says.

So how does Poorta feel about moving from his beloved D'Arcy to join Burnett? "The D'Arcy/ Burnett fit is a good one and under Bruce Haines it shares similar values to the ones I have," he says diplomatically.

Poorta clearly reserves a lot of affection for D'Arcy. But his immediate task leaves him little time for nostalgia. He faces the challenge of bedding down a merged department and improving Leo Burnett's planning reputation.

But even more urgent than this will be his ability, together with Cook, to limit the number of D'Arcy account reviews that inevitably emerge after a merger. And he knows it: "The only challenge that matters is making sure that all the D'Arcy clients feel comfortable and that all the people have all the right opportunities."

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