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
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.
THE RUTHERFORD FILE
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
1998: Unilever, worldwide media director