Media Headliner: The duo behind MindShare's ideas-led evolution

Can Richard Armstrong and Anthony Edwards turn the buying giant MindShare into a comms agency?

If the two men in the photo don't look familiar to you, then you're probably not alone. Richard Armstrong and Anthony Edwards, the joint heads of strategy at MindShare, may not be well known within the UK industry, but throughout the network they are minor celebrities.

As the co-authors of MindShare's manifesto for the future, Destination Planning, they are familiar faces across the network, having travelled around to spread its vision through seminars and training sessions. The duo are now turning their attention to the UK, where they have been charged with leading MindShare's new strategy department, as the agency attempts to reposition itself as a communications business. As the joint heads of strategy, Armstrong and Edwards are central to this: MindShare aims to put strategy at "the heart" of its business.

MindShare describes this as a "fundamental change" to its business and an opportunity to position itself for the future, as it allocates strategists to work on all accounts and across all media channels. But don't expect the pair at the centre of this change to roll out the fanfare and start beating their own drums.

Confident, well spoken and charming, Armstrong and Edwards are professional and business focused. They talk about the challenges ahead with intelligence and insight, and have a shared focus for the direction they need to drive MindShare. However, when probed about each other, they simply laugh politely and talk of teamwork and the strength of their partnership. If these two are partners in crime, they aren't about to start dishing the dirt.

And it's an interesting partnership. Armstrong is a strategic planner with 12 years' experience. His previous roles have included planning director for Greater China with Dentsu Y&R and regional strategic planning director for Ogilvy Asia-Pacific. He also co-founded Ogilvy's RedCard, the creative media agency that fused media insights with creative ideas, before returning to the UK as a managing partner for MindShare's new product development group.

This is where he met Edwards, an ambitious media planner who began as a media planner at WCRS before becoming the media manager at Optimedia and then a business director at MindShare. Together they spent three years as the managing partners at MindShare's NPD Group, before assuming the joint heads of strategy roles.

Jed Glanvill, the chief executive of MindShare, describes Armstrong as the ideas activator, "the guy who can organise thoughts very well and challenge briefs", and Edwards as the conceptual and creative thinker, "who comes up with the big ideas, but is less likely to turn up to a meeting on time".

Armstrong and Edwards believe their different backgrounds are the key to this partnership and to their role, which they describe as "merchants for change".

Armstrong says: "We've got very unique experiences in that we've both worked in creative and media agencies, and we've both had the full 360-degree experience. It's our USP, and the culmination of our different skills is what sets us apart. We've seen both sides of the fence, and that's what's going to set the direction for us."

Edwards adds: "We are changing the idea of the celebrity planner or the lone planner; we aren't just joint heads because they couldn't decide between us, it's about blending disciplines. We find this a much better way of working, and we aim to build a team of people with complementary and different skills."

Marco Rimini, the worldwide head of communications planning at MindShare Worldwide, agrees that the strength of this partnership comes from these differences. He says: "Richard is from that broader account planning background and he understands the international business, while Anthony is media, and he's had more domestic experience and comes from that hot-shop-type mould. They are different personalities, but they get on very well. They are both lateral and analytical thinkers, and they think the same, which is important."

While Armstrong and Edwards both have strong backgrounds in media and communications planning, they are looking to recruit staff from all areas of the market and grow the expertise of the strategy team. This new recruitment style is being reflected across the agency as it expands its communications offering into new channels.

Rimini, who is responsible for co-ordinating MindShare's repositioning on a global scale, says: "This is not just about adding a layer of strategy people, it's about reorganising our structures around a group of people that can sort out problems for our clients strategically."

However, one of the key challenges for Armstrong and Edwards will be shifting the perception of MindShare, which, as part of Group M, has arguably of late been viewed more as a buying machine than a leader in creative insight.

Observers argue that because of this, Armstrong and Edwards will face a tough challenge. Graham Bednash, the managing partner at Michaelides & Bednash, says: "MindShare has a heritage of buying clout. I think it could be very hard in that environment to bring in a culture of ideas and insights. Everyone is trying to position themselves as ideas companies, the acid test is whether the ideas are better. It's the right thing, but the challenge will be scaling it up and ensuring that they are not just rebadging planning as strategy."

Armstrong and Edwards are adamant that the restructure is not all talk and maintain the repositioning will be felt throughout the agency as new talent comes on board. "This is an investment in where we think the business is going," Edwards says. "We have a clear vision of the future and our belief is that we are the only agency that can do it. We have the structures and divisions in place, and we are taking great strides to increase the amount of specialists and knowledge that we have under one roof. The big challenge is embracing this change and finding the right people to drive it forward."

Armstrong adds: "We were given the job of changing MindShare into a communications agency and this is an obvious step forward for us. We have a unique partnership and I think this is what the market has been crying out for."