Greg Grimmer must be slightly frustrated. The garrulous outgoing managing director of Zed Media, who will join the advertising agency Hurrell and Dawson as a partner to launch its media services, has agreed to forgo any PR around the move.
This is akin to handing Chris Eubank a crack at a boxing world title and then telling him not to promote the fight. As negotiations over his departure terms from ZenithOptimedia (which owns Zed Media) rumble on, Grimmer has issued a short statement, but is otherwise keeping uncharacteristically quiet. It reads: "Hurrell and Dawson presents a unique opportunity for me, I've had a long-standing ambition to join the ranks of the advertising entrepreneurs, I now have my chance. I leave Zed in the rudest of health, with a strong management team in place, and, I am sure, a continued bright future."
The last bit of this seems irrefutable. During his two years in charge of Zed, Grimmer, 41, more than doubled its billings and staff levels, to a point where he is running a business of more than 120 people. This, and the fact that Zed has been on the coalface of digital and traditional media convergence, is what attracted Hurrell and Dawson to Grimmer.
Its founding partner Nick Hurrell describes the search for a senior media player to join the agency as a "long trawl", and adds: "Greg has 20 years of traditional media experience and has also become something of a poster boy for the digital media world. People at the likes of Yahoo!, AOL and Google speak highly of him. We're working with clients looking for advice on how to explore this new landscape, and Greg is ideally placed."
As part of the deal, Grimmer will get his name above the door of the agency (which is also close to hiring a creative partner) and has invested in the business. Observers are interested because Hurrell and Dawson is committed to offering media buying as well as planning. Hurrell concedes that "it's hard to say how far into buying we'll go", but adds that, given Grimmer's recent background, a natural place to start is in the area of online and other digital buying.
Grimmer has arrived at Hurrell and Dawson with strong new-media credentials and experience of running a business, but it's been a long haul. He started his career as a planner at the then CIA Medianetwork, with highlights including working on Daewoo's award-winning, response-driven campaign. Things ended badly in November 1998, when he was made redundant as part of cutbacks following a series of account losses.
This was hard to take for Grimmer, who had openly harboured ambitions to one day run the agency. Even back then, Grimmer considered start-up offers, but opted for a consultancy role at New PHD, which lasted just six months following a fallout with its founder, David Pattison. Nonetheless, his impact at the agency was felt.
Morag Blazey, the current chief executive of PHD, who worked in the next office to Grimmer during his stint at New PHD, says: "Greg was very funny and very enthusiastic, full of energy and opinionated. He can be humble and accept he's wrong, though. He's great at making things simple and at networking. He'll make Hurrell and Dawson famous - an injection of energy will do them good."
After PHD, Grimmer joined Optimedia as a managing partner, where he was part of a strong managerial team led by the managing director, Simon Mathews. Phil Nunn, a fellow Optimedia director during Grimmer's time there, says: "Greg's one of the new school of media person, really refreshing and exciting to be with. He'll bring some amusement into the industry and is tip-top commercially."
Optimedia was eaten up in the 2002 merger with Zenith Media, and Grimmer found himself down a merged pecking order of management, behind the joint managing directors, Tim Greatrex and Greg Turzynski. However, he showed his commercial prowess as the group commercial director, working closely with the chief executive, Antony Young, post- merger, and on its repositioning as "the ROI agency".
His real breakthrough has come at Zed. People all mention Grimmer's sense of fun and enthusiasm, and believe his two years at the helm of the media agency have really made him.
He now has the chance to create a name for himself in his own right, and those who know him say he will have put a lot of thought into the move. Mathews, who hired Grimmer at Optimedia, says: "I don't see him as a great risk-taker. For someone perceived as a bit of a maverick, he possesses quite a conservative streak. The fact that he is taking the entrepreneurial step is a huge sign of how highly he rates Hurrell and Dawson."
Enyi Nwosu, another former Optimedia colleague and now a partner at CHI & Partners, says: "He enjoys being spiky Greg and a bit of a stirrer. He can give the impression he's a wanker, but he's not. He's great with people and clients - behind closed doors he's the first in the boardroom to ask what decisions mean for his people."
There remains a large part of the social animal in Grimmer. He's well known for his midweek nights out, attending the odd industry jolly and for spending more time with male Yahoo! executives than is probably healthy for a married man. Indeed, Grimmer apparently upped sticks for France with Yahoo! last weekend to watch England and South Africa contest the Rugby World Cup final.
Friends say that turning 40 has had the effect of making Grimmer a bit more sedate, but that there are times when the patience of his wife, Lucy, must be sorely tested.
He's now set to bring his energy and networking skills to Hurrell and Dawson, with supporters predicting that he will make a considerable impact provided that the agency delivers a clear creative vision.
As Nunn puts it: "I hope they don't revert to the advertising of 20 years ago because, with Greg's skills, they have a chance to modernise and challenge."