MEDIA: HEADLINER - Creative brain wants inclusive approach at ZenithOptimedia

In spite of an appearance to the contrary, Gerry Boyle is a charmer, Ian Darby writes.

Gerry Boyle looks like the type of man you'd find lurking in a dark Glasgow alleyway waiting to administer a good kicking, rather than one of the best media planners in the business.

But his weathered features and occasional scowl belie a thoughtful, intelligent and even pleasant persona - though they do make him look older than his 32 years.

Boyle has just been appointed managing director of ZenithOptimedia, following the departure of Greg Turzynski. Reports suggested that the agency's chief executive, Antony Young, and Turzynski disagreed over the nature of the latter's role and a parting of the ways was arranged. Enter Boyle, who joined Zenith Media in 1999 as its head of planning.

Simon Francis, OMD Europe's director of strategic planning, who gave Boyle his first job in media at Leo Burnett, says: "Gerry's very understanding with people. Despite the scars on his face and the Glaswegian accent, he's a very good listener." Graham Bednash, a managing partner at Michaelides & Bednash, adds: "He's great at managing people. He is charm personified."

Boyle has faced tough challenges since joining Zenith. Charged by the then management team of Graham Duff, Simon Marquis and Tim Greatrex with transforming its image as a "buying shed in Paddington", he built the planning department from 15 people to more than 40 only to have the department split when Zenith and Optimedia merged.

Those who know Boyle said he found the loss of his head of department role difficult and considered moving on. But he has stayed and seems up for the challenge.

It will be interesting to see how Boyle will work with Young. It's tempting to see Boyle as the creative, strategic thinker to Young's hard-nosed businessman. Insiders suggest that Boyle will offer some balance to Young's approach.

Young says: "Gerry has the exceptional balance of being an intensely creative thinker, but with the pragmatism to make things happen. He is a natural leader and has the ability to inspire people to perform above themselves."

Boyle says of his management style: "I have an inclusive approach. I'd say I am fully democratic but there comes a time when you need to make a decision and if you make ten and get nine right then people will let you have that one."

Francis believes Boyle's passion is a key feature. "He makes complex things simple and asks 'why?' a lot. He's certainly challenging. He's a passionate person who will fight for what he thinks is right."

Despite these fighting qualities, Boyle is polite and circumspect during the interview. And while he's an ideas man, he says he really gets a kick out of working on new business. ZenithOptimedia's triumph on winning the consolidated Procter & Gamble planning earlier this year gives him pleasure.

But since then there have been one or two stumbles for ZenithOptimedia.

The loss of KFC to Walker Media was a particular blow.

Boyle disagrees that the focus on numbers and accountability of the "ROI agency" positioning, introduced by Young several months ago, sits at odds with his talent for creative thinking.

"When ROI was first mentioned I felt slightly uncomfortable because my philosophy is about creating great brand ideas. But you need great business understanding and ideas to make ROI happen," he argues.

His inclusive approach is tangible when he praises ZenithOptimedia's buying skills, its Village planning approach and ROI without hesitation. He's clearly an able diplomat as well as a feisty competitor.

Outside work, Boyle is getting to grips with family life (he and his wife have a two-year-old daughter) but still finds time to play the occasional round of golf. A Catholic, he follows the green and white hoops of Celtic but rarely gets to see them. And he adds with a grin: "I still get out for a night out now and then."

But what are his aims for ZenithOptimedia? "We've got the opportunity with the ROI positioning to be a very different media agency. We need to handle it carefully but there's nothing I like better than trying to establish clarity of direction for a client's business."

Graham Duff, now the chief executive of Granada Enterprises, is one who saw potential in Boyle: "In my five years as the chief executive at Zenith, Gerry, along with Simon Marquis, was the most important appointment. He's a terrifically rounded individual and was at the forefront of Zenith embracing strategic planning while creating a good esprit de corps."

But you could take the view that the good times have passed for the likes of ZenithOptimedia and Boyle. That the Nakeds and the Michaelides & Bednashes will conquer all. "I have the upmost respect for them. But I worked in one of those places and I don't think they offer any better than we can. It's about nurturing the right people to have great ideas. Not about the agency you're at," Boyle says.

And with that he dashes off to pick up his daughter.


1994: Leo Burnett, media assistant

1997: Michaelides & Bednash, media strategist

1999: Zenith Media, head of planning

2003: ZenithOptimedia, deputy managing director

2003: ZenithOptimedia, managing director


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