Media Headliner: Can Allan help return dynamism to OMD UK?

OMD UK's rising star brings his own brand of enthusiasm to the rebuilding task at the agency, Ian Darby writes.

Meeting Jonathan Allan, the new deputy managing director of OMD UK, did not prove to be easy. Not that he's a tricky or media-shy sort of customer, you understand, but he happened to be on holiday for a week when Campaign wanted to interview him.

He'd been snowboarding - an event as inextricably linked to the young noughties media executive as a few pints and some lunchtime action at the local strip club was to the generation before.

But we get together on Monday morning. Not at OMD UK's Paddington offices but in a swanky bar/hotel near Notting Hill. This has positive advantages, not least that the whole of the Paddington Basin is a building site and hard to reach because its bridge is suspended in mid-air. A comparison with OMD's need to rebuild - which resulted in Allan's promotion and the departure of the executive strategy director, Mark Palmer - would be hard to resist.

The location also serves to put Allan in a buzzy, fashionable context.

He's accompanied by the managing director, Steve Williams, a relative veteran at 39 compared with Allan's 30. Both are dressed down - Allan (or "JA" as everybody calls him) in a bright Ralph Lauren sweater, jeans and trainers. Williams is in a more sober casual shirt and dark cords.

It's all very comfortable and friendly.

Allan has been marked out as a star of the future for OMD UK. There haven't been many of those in recent years as the agency has adopted a low profile following the departure of its "stars", such as the Unity founders Ivan Pollard and Derek Morris, in the 90s. Williams and the OMD chief executive, Nick Manning, are tired of talk of the old guard that once made BMP OMD famous. So, much rests on the shoulders of Allan and other emerging young talent at OMD UK.

The new deputy MD will continue with some of the client responsibilities he has developed over nine years at the agency (he joined after a short spell working at a regional agency in Newcastle) but will also take some of the managerial pressure off Williams' shoulders.

OMD has restructured around the heads of each discipline to create an eight-strong operational board (very much a sign that a full merger with its sister agency Manning Gottlieb OMD is not on the cards). Alongside Williams and Allan will sit directors including Neil Johnson (the head of TV), Tim McCloskey (the former managing partner who has responsibility for non-TV buying), and Jo Rigby (the agency's research guru).

It's a team Williams feels has the right blend of youthful energy and experience. He says: "Yes, we're low-profile in the industry but as a team we will now become one of the most high-profile around because of the work we'll produce."

Allan's part in this will be vital. Growing up through the OMD TV department, making TV director by 2000, he switched to a more client-, planning-focused business director role to broaden his experience. He says: "I was looking for a more cerebral approach but then I've had a fantastic time pitching for new business. For me, that's what advertising is all about."

And there's little doubt that OMD UK, despite its solidity and delivery of results (it usually performs well at the IPA Effectiveness Awards), could introduce more sparkle to its new-business performance as well as its profile.

Williams says: "The problem with JA is that he's never settled for what he's got. He's a great bloke who gets on with everyone but, fundamentally, he'll challenge me."

The obvious hope is that the pairing will bring more dynamism to OMD UK, based around its mantra of "insights, ideas, results". From the outside, though, it looks as if young talent, such as Allan and Toby Roberts, who has taken the head of strategy role and assumed Palmer's responsibilities, might have been held back by the old guard for too long.

So there's a lot of ground to make up. The solution, Allan and Williams say, lies in closer working between buying and business management, as well as the energy of the new management team. Manning believes OMD UK is now on track, although he admits it's all very much work in progress.

"The key thing to say is that this is now a partnership. Williams is probably one of the best MDs in town but that's not a well-known fact. He's incredibly dynamic, energetic and popular with clients and our own people. JA is popular, enthusiastic and energetic."

Allan is also a bit of a "fashion victim", Manning says, but surprisingly modest with it. Outside work it sounds like he doesn't sit still. As well as the snowboarding, he loves surfing, swimming and the gym. He ran last year's London Marathon and is training for a triathlon.

He also, almost shamefacedly, admits to enjoying reading business books, adding: "I'm very interested in clients' business and the media strategy behind that." Will OMD, though, miss Palmer's strategic nous? "I don't see any problems with strategic delivery. Mark Palmer talked a lot and we have a lot to thank him for but all our business directors are great strategic people," he says.

It remains to be seen if this is hot air. Allan and Williams must now deliver the promised era of energy and dynamism. Hopefully before the Paddington Basin development is completed in 2008.


Age: 30

Lives: Highbury, North London

Family: Not yet

Describe yourself in three words: Scruffy, yet enthusiastic

Most treasured possession: My 69 911 (if only it would ever go)

Alternative career: Beach bum

Favourite TV programme: Shameless

Last book read: Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike

Interests: Training for a triathlon, snowboarding, surfing, GTA San

Andreas and a few beers now and then

Biggest professional achievement: Holding down a job