MEDIA HEADLINER: Media Planning lures adland’s long-lost daughter to the fold - Marie Oldham is returning to her roots after a spell at the BBC

When Marie Oldham made the jump from Leo Burnett to the business development chair at BBC Worldwide, adland seemed to have lost another of its bright-est talents to the charms of a media owner.

When Marie Oldham made the jump from Leo Burnett to the business

development chair at BBC Worldwide, adland seemed to have lost another

of its bright-est talents to the charms of a media owner.

Back in 1997, Oldham, like the WCRS alumnus Sue Farr and IPC’s group

marketing director Philippa Brown, seemed to signal that a successful

career in media planning and buying would soon be little more than a

stepping stone to a department headship across the media divide.

Now, as Oldham turns her back on the Beeb to take a managing partner

position at Media Planning, it’s tempting to think that there could be a

steady exodus of prodigious talent back to media independents. Oldham

would never use the word backlash, but her experiences might give food

for thought to those loading their CVs for a crack at a career among the

media heavyweights.

’I came in to try things and bring change,’ she says. ’But in doing that

you have to make compromises from the way you would go about it at an

agency. Media owners are scared of people moving around and putting

their fingers in different pies whereas agencies actively want you to do


’It takes longer for the media owner to get the full benefit from you

and even when you’re getting a long way, you’re not giving them

everything you can,’ she says.

It sounds frustrating, although Oldham insists she has no regrets about

her decision to take the BBC job. She claims she’s learned a lot from

her two-year stay with Auntie. ’I’ve learned a lot of business skills,’

she says. ’It’s been like a management training course and it will help

me get closer to clients’ issues.’

It’s that experience that Oldham believes she can feed into her new


She will take charge of developing Catalyst, Media Planning’s strategic

unit, and bringing its influence to bear on all the agency’s


She sees the key to success as establishing a position much further up

the business stream than media independents tend to go.

’Good strategic planning puts you way back in the process,’ she


’Many agencies’ strategic units are just better quality media planning

tools. Catalyst allows you to think about a business, to talk with a

client about their objectives and work out the role communications will

play in them.’

Media Planning’s managing director, Marc Mendoza, believes that Oldham’s

style has always been well-tailored to that particular role. ’You need

people brave and knowledgeable enough to challenge a client’s point of

view without annoying them,’ he says. ’Clients will warm to Marie, and

she’s not frightened of anything.’

Such compatibility apart, it might seem strange that someone with

Oldham’s creative reputation should head for the former Mediapolis, a

house built on buying power. However, Burnett’s chief executive, Nick

Brien, who watched Oldham join the agency from FCB and work her way up

to strategic planning director before leaving for the BBC, believes the

move shows Media Planning’s ambition.

’She’s a bloody good hire for them, exactly because she brings that

creative experience in spades,’ he says. ’It’s testament to the way the

agency’s developed. If all they wanted was to remain a traditional

agency then she wouldn’t be going there. That would be a waste of time,

and she doesn’t make mistakes like that.’

Of course, there could be risks to hiring a free-ranging spirit with a

brief to influence account handling across the agency. By her own

admission, Oldham likes to get involved in whatever area grabs her

attention, and it’s not only at the Beeb that such an approach can

bruise egos.

At Media Planning, though, she will be working with a series of old

colleagues who are either used to her style or encouraged it in the

first place.

Phil Danter, who hired Oldham at FCB, is the managing partner most

closely associated with Catalyst and, according to Mendoza, was a

driving force behind the decision to bring her in. It seems he’ll find

her as fired up as ever.

Reflecting on her career path, Oldham says: ’I’m really sad. I don’t

have a career plan as such. I always just wanted to be the best media

person. Wherever the business goes I want to be at the leading edge of



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