Media Headliner: MindShare's perfectionist MD focuses internally

Ita Murphy feels MindShare needs to concentrate less on growth and more on its multidiscipline offer.

Ita Murphy, the new MindShare managing director, is not what you would call high profile. Rivals have heard of Jed Glanvill's successor, but, despite the fact she has worked at three agencies before MindShare, few are able to supply a rumour or anecdote.

Murphy confesses with a tinge of regret that she has not always had the time to "hang around the bar" in terms of courting industry connections.

But it is apparent from her interaction with the tea ladies and junior members of staff in the MindShare canteen she has a strong presence within the WPP agency.

She has also contributed to the wider industry via her involvement with Wacl, where she spearheads its recruitment drive. While she rejects the notion that the media industry is dominated by men, she admits she has become something of a reluctant heroine for women at MindShare. "When news of my appointment came out, I received flowers and cards from everyone you'd expect. But the most heartfelt message was an e-mail from a girl at MindShare who said it made her feel that anything is possible. It made me realise how important it is to have women in these positions - it sends a message that you can be a good mum and be successful."

Murphy does not feel her gender has curtailed her career but does say she was warned in a previous role not to move to a four-day week to bring up her children. Women at MindShare can probably expect a more enlightened approach.

Gender issues aside, Murphy says one of the biggest challenges of her new role will be to empower people and to "listen more ... really listen".

She adds: "I don't do that enough. To people who haven't worked with me, I'm quite scary, but I'm not when you work with me. I want to empower people and make them feel they have a career path. I need to be more available and accessible than I have been."

While others have been grabbing the headlines, Murphy has been quietly building a reputation as the consummate account professional. While some have found her slightly intimidating and unapproachable (at MediaVest, she was sarcastically nicknamed "Happy Ita"), Murphy argues that her biggest strength is building strong client relationships, and muses that she still socialises with clients she hasn't worked with for eight years.

Those who have worked with her testify to her commitment. Mark Craze, now the Media Planning Group managing partner, was a colleague in the pre-Carat days at TMD. He testifies to her "total professionalism", adding: "Clients love her; she takes pride in everything she does and is very commercial."

Murphy's perfectionist attitude manifested itself in strange ways earlier in her career. For instance, she earned a reputation at the University of Manchester, where she studied zoology, for performing the neatest dissection of a worm in her class. After university, Murphy spent two years in sales on a trade magazine, before moving to TMD where she worked as a planner.

She then spent seven years at MediaVest and joined MindShare in 2000 after a four-year stint at Initiative.

Murphy is visibly enthused when she talks about MindShare and says she has learned more during her six years at the agency than all the other years in her career put together. Her ascent through the agency's ranks has been impressive.

After joining as a managing partner in the communications planning team, she was handed overall responsibility for running the £200 million Unilever account at the beginning of 2005.

MindShare acted swiftly in promoting Murphy after the ascension of Glanvill to the chief executive post. Glanvill has supreme confidence that the decision was the right one. He says: "She has got tremendous experience of clients and building teams of people at the agency to understand and deliver clients' needs."

But is Murphy's new role the right one for her? And will MindShare miss her client skills as she devotes more time to running the agency? Glanvill argues Murphy will still be involved in the day-to-day running of the Unilever business: "Murphy will still have direct client responsibilities, it's all about delivering them in an appropriate way and at the right level."

Glanvill believes she can also inspire the staff. "She is incredibly passionate and focused at making us better but also urging our people to learn more and get involved with training," he says.

Murphy's role will be vital because, following a successful new-business run, much of MindShare's focus needs to be internal. The agency has restructured its management team around six key divisions, with its "House of Media" multidisciplinary offering at the centre. Murphy says: "Given our size, it's much more about exposing our clients to House of Media, with our attention centred on developing what we already have. Normally, success is measured in billings growth but the challenge for us now is to equip our planners with the most sophisticated tools so they can communicate in a more informed manner with clients. We want our people to be more like marketers than media planners."

In Murphy, the UK's second-largest media agency has a smooth and professional operator. Having grown up with seven siblings, she is also good at managing in a fast-paced, chaotic environment. The House of Media should be a breeze in comparison.

THE LOWDOWN Age: 44 Born: Islington, London. One of eight siblings Lives: Kent Family: Married with two children Hobbies: Jogging Favourite film: The Sound of Music Most treasured possession: My memories Personal mantra: Get on with it!