Media Headliner: Hyams out to prove he's both a talker and a doer

MEC's straight-talking 'pioneer of digital media comms' is charged with joining up operations across EMEA.

Jeff Hyams, the new chief strategy officer of Mediaedge:cia across the EMEA region, has been around a long time. His boss at Mediaedge:cia, the chief executive of EMEA, Mel Varley, describes him as "one of the pioneers of digital media communications".

A bold claim, but one that, in terms of launching digital companies at least, might just hold water. Back in the 90s, for instance, Hyams was instrumental in encouraging his agency, Leagas Shaffron Davies, to invest in DNA, the digital business eventually rebranded as Razorfish.

He then set up Zebra, a media joint venture between LSD and Zenith Media, which gave his agency access to a larger buying point. It was out of Zebra that the direct response agency Zed Media was to evolve, and Hyams ran this from 1999 until his departure in 2004.

Zed combined digital and direct solutions with more conventional media planning and buying, and grew under Hyams' leadership from three people to around 60.

It was the digital experience acquired while running Zed, coupled with his more general management experience, that prompted MEC to poach him, in 2004, as chief executive of its digital MEC Interaction business across the EMEA region. As Hyams points out, he had the advantage of joining a network which had made digital a major element of its activity under Rob Norman, a digital evangelist and Hyams' predecessor, now the global chief executive of MEC Interaction based in New York.

MEC Interaction has grown its EMEA revenues at 50 per cent a year since Hyams joined, and he cites work for the likes of Sony Ericsson and Monster.com as among its best. He says of MEC Interaction: "I'm very comfortable with where we are; some of our competitors may have been better at promoting themselves, but in most of our markets, I'm happy with our ability to compete and, especially, as a network."

He now adds the new strategy role to his responsibilities: a position, he says, that was created by Varley and sold into Hyams, rather than a result of him craving greater responsibility.

It is quite deliberate that it is Hyams - a self-professed "doer", who claims that he is "straight talking, no bullshit" - who has been appointed as chief strategy officer, rather than one of its experienced communications planners. As Hyams puts it: "I am not a comms planning chief strategy officer, this is about joining things up." Varley expands on this: "Clients want a seamless, integrated offer, so how we implement these capabilities, how we work with each other day to day and how we behave as a network has to reflect this. Jeff's role is to help us orchestrate change across the region."

Hyams will work at integrating MEC's business at the top level: ensuring that its digital, insight and ROI, planning, content and data and technology units work more closely together.

He says that the way digital media has evolved with a variety of uses (embracing promoting and repositioning brands, building audience engagement and selling products) means that he comes from a naturally integrated background. "When I left Zed and came to MEC, the challenges were about how to build an integrated model - not just a digital-only business," he explains.

Hyams says the big challenge he has faced has been managing growth: "The challenges are with people - of growing an industry that is young. So bringing in new people and nurturing them has been a core element."

So what will Hyams bring to the new role? He seems to possess a "Marmite" personality: he has many supporters who love his approach and what he's achieved, but he's also managed to rub a few people up the wrong way. He has a strong personality and talks ten to the dozen (as one former colleague says of him: "Why use one word when a thousand will do?"), and some critics question his ability to effectively mould people and businesses to a fast-changing environment.

Varley, however, is clear on why he's the right man for the new role. "Jeff is an inspirational thinker and presenter, he is strong on ideas and is intuitive on implementation, too," she says. "Jeff does not take himself too seriously, but, at the same time, he commands considerable respect from clients and colleagues alike."

Hyams will have a head start in the new role given that he's already used to moving between MEC's 25 markets in the EMEA region and because he already knows many of the heads of discipline he will deal with. He also says that he'll be comfortable with the slightly nebulous nature of the chief strategy role - furnishing a copy of an article from the Harvard Business Review, which explains that the chief strategy officer must be "comfortable with ambiguity" and in a position where "actions typically won't pay off for years".

Critics might say that it was always thus with Hyams, but he's certainly impressed since joining a resurgent MEC and has been heavily involved in some of its recent triumphs (expanding its responsibilities with Monster.com, for example). Now his claims to be a "doer" will seriously be put to the test.

THE LOWDOWN
Age: 51
Lives: Woodford Green or Terminal 4
Family: Daughters Lucy and Grace. Cairn Terrier Charlie
Most treasured possession: Music collection (12,000-plus) - vinyl, CD
and downloads
Interests outside work: The arts - music, theatre, film - and, for my
sins, Spurs
Favourite gadget: iPod
Last book: Barefaced Lies by Jools Holland
Motto: "To dare is to do" (Spurs motto - preferred it in Latin)

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