MEDIA HEADLINER: Buyer turned strategist faces crash course in client politics. Alan Rutherford’s new job at Unilever puts him in the limelight. By Claire Beale

When you hear a guy’s nickname is ’Powder’, it’s the sort of sobriquet guaranteed to get any self-respecting, sleaze-seeking journo salivating.

When you hear a guy’s nickname is ’Powder’, it’s the sort of

sobriquet guaranteed to get any self-respecting, sleaze-seeking journo


The prospect of a drugs-busting expose makes profile-writing a little

more palatable. Sadly, though, the monicker of Unilever’s newly

appointed worldwide media director has less to do with a penchant for

the white stuff and more to do with a natty pair of powder blue slacks

he wore back when no-one could remember his name.

And it didn’t leave me with a lot to go on in the hunt for the real Alan

Rutherford, once a well-known figure on the UK media landscape, but for

the past few years consigned to the ’broader palette’ of Europe.

Rutherford emerged last week from the shadowy recesses of the Network

Europe to take on one of the biggest media jobs on offer - worldwide

responsibility for Unilever’s media strategy (Campaign, 10 April). That

the fmcg giant should hire a media practitioner was no surprise. That it

chose Rutherford, at least to those parochial media types who had

written him off years ago, was.

For the record, Rutherford is a TV buyer by trade, a formidable

negotiator and a bit of an operator. He’s your typical curry-loving,

glad-handing, beer-swilling TV-buying lad, according to one of those

fluffy planner types.

By the early 90s he was O&M Media’s joint media director with Mandy


But, as the saying goes, joints are for butchers and Rutherford dug out

his passport and relocated to Europe.

The Continent was fast losing its tag as the waiting room for retirement

and Rutherford got to grips with clients such as Sony, IBM and


’I didn’t want to stay in one set environment,’ Rutherford explains. ’I

needed room to grow and develop.’

And, if the comments elicited from those working for Unilever roster

agencies are to be believed, the sun has suddenly been discovered

shining forth from Mr Rutherford’s rear end. Funny how becoming a client

- and in this case a big, big, big one - can transform your reputation

overnight (I bet you never knew you had so many friends, Alan).

Still, many admit it will be a challenging job for him. His predecessor,

Neil Welling, is a big bloke with a certain gravitas and statesmanlike

demeanor. Rutherford, on the other hand, is young (37) and perky.

Then there’s the politics. Rutherford will be dealing with some tough

clients within the Unilever family, not to mention those damned roster

agencies (J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy & Mather, McCann-Erickson, Ammirati

Puris Lintas and Initiative Media). A good job, then, that his diffident

demeanor masks the bite of a seasoned wheeler-dealer.

’That’s the biggest challenge for Alan,’ Pooler says. ’This job requires

a huge amount of diplomacy and that’s where Alan’s geniality will come

into play.’

Rutherford himself acknowledges the gauntlet. ’The key thing about the

Unilever job is being able to bring teams of people together, developing

a networking style of management for the good of the company as a


Rutherford will also have a major role in representing Unilever’s

interests on the international media scene, lobbying on issues such as

TV trading, media prices and so on. ’There are some big industry issues

that advertisers need to take a stand on, and one of my responsibilities

will be to reflect the company’s views publicly,’ he explains.

While Rutherford’s skills as a day-to-day operator are not in question

(’he doesn’t pontificate like I do on the theory,’ Pooler says), he’s no

media guru famed for his vision. Nevertheless, Paul Longhurst, APL’s

media director and the man who hired Rutherford as a TV buyer at

Dorlands, believes he’s got what it takes. ’Alan’s a bloody bright

bloke, very insightful and seriously talented.’

Rutherford’s certainly bright enough to have a canny idea of the task

ahead and, from the kid-with-a-big-Easter-egg look on his face, you can

see he’s excited. ’I get a buzz out of knowing that if you get things

right straight off in emerging markets, you can hold that position for

the next ten or 20 years.’

And in sophisticated markets where Unilever is well established, ’things

are changing very quickly and the buzz comes from keeping on top of

those changes’. On the detail of Unilever’s plans, though, Rutherford

won’t be drawn. This is one guy who’s keeping his powder dry.


1983: Allen Brady Marsh, graduate trainee

1984: Dorlands, TV buyer

1986: Ogilvy & Mather, group buying head

1988: O&M, board director

1989: O&M, deputy media director

1992: O&M, joint media director

1994: O&M Media Europe, media director then client service and

operations director

1998: Unilever, worldwide media director

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus