Media Headliner: New managers push PHD forward with respect

Daren Rubins and Jonathan Fowles will continue the agency's renaissance by maintaining their core values.

Continuity is the watchword at the modern media agency. Why bother to bring in what can be expensive external talent, when you already have the ability fermenting in abundance at your own company?

There are several recent examples of the "well deserved" internal promotion. These include Media- edge:cia bumping up Toby Jenner and Steve Hatch to joint managing director level following Tom George's elevation to chief executive, OMD UK promoting Jonathan Allan to managing director after his boss, Steve Williams, moved on to the group chief executive role, and now PHD has created a new senior team by promoting the business directors Daren Rubins and Jonathan Fowles to the roles of managing director and executive planning director respectively.

From the outside, it's easy to draw the conclusion that PHD has experienced an end of an era, what with the chairman Tess Alps departing last summer and David Pattison, the worldwide chief executive, due to step down in March. The president Jonathan Durden remains an employee of the agency he founded, but due to his other commitments, he is not a regular fixture.

However, some revisionists suggest that the "old PHD" era ended some years ago, rather than in recent months; they argue that a team of key directors, Morag Blazey, Louise Jones and Mark Holden, ably supported by the likes of Rubins and Fowles on client and new business, are the ones who have turned the agency around from the problems it faced three years ago.

Not to say that the job for PHD is in any way finished, or that it has become the perfect agency. It has been faced with the challenge of launching a global network with the inevitable drain on London resources that came with it, and in the UK it seemed to struggle, in the first half of 2006 at least, to match the momentum of 2005 when it was named Campaign's Media Agency of the Year.

So there is still work to do in moving PHD on. Step forward Rubins and Fowles, the new members of the senior management team.

Fowles' focus will be on evolving the agency's planning approach, with Jones, now PHD's chief strategy officer. Holden, the agency's other senior planning face, moves into an international role. While the chief executive Blazey focuses on taking the PHD Group forward, Rubins will be the keeper of the PHD flame on a day-to-day basis.

It's apparent that one of Rubins' key motivations is the massive pride he has in the agency. He says: "I've worked at several other agencies and I can say that PHD really is a different culture. It's all about respect and intelligence and about developing and nurturing people, and bringing them on in terms of what they do in the future."

Both Rubins and Fowles have been business directors at the agency for several years, between them overseeing the agency's largest accounts, and both have been around the industry long enough to date back to full-service days. Fowles, 38, has spent 11 years at PHD, following a spell at Bartle Bogle Hegarty and then Motive, the media operation spun out of BBH. Rubins, 40, spent time at Young & Rubicam, before stints at MediaCom, Carat and then MediaVest, before joining PHD in 2000.

The duo are established players at PHD and have earned their promotions by building strong client relationships and helping to win new business. They're not men who people seem to love and loathe in equal measure, seemingly having earned affection and respect from their many peers and colleagues.

Insiders say their promotions will help PHD; they will be able to influence the company with their actions. Fowles is described as the "creative media thinker" and, based on the gushing comments of colleagues, resembles a Marvel superhero rather than a media agency director. He's apparently good at almost everything; especially at absorbing complex information and distilling it into one simple media idea, and convincing people who have lame suggestions that they are on the right track before subtly dumping their thoughts for ones of his own. He was apparently instrumental in the agency winning pitches such as ING Direct, and the only mild criticism he attracts relates to an allegedly "awful" taste in shirts and shoes.

As for Rubins, he's the consummate "nice guy", and is said to "exude warmth and has a ridiculous amount of integrity". One insider says: "Both he and Jonathan have blurred their ego boundaries into the company."

Rubins admits PHD has faced a "big learning curve" in launching PHD in more than 40 markets, a move that saw PHD London staff helping the network get off the ground and involving the challenge of exporting the culture and thinking of London to new markets.

Now the challenge is to focus on evolving the product offering and client service in the UK. Fowles senses they have earned their promotions at an opportune time: "Media agencies are well placed. Some creative agencies have a planning process that is focused on creative excellence rather than getting to grips with brands and business strategy."

The way forward for PHD will involve a focus on formulating a positioning of "business meets media planning". Digital will be a big part of this, but PHD won't be restructuring around a digital department as others have done. Fowles says: "Digital is not an end in itself. It's vitally important, but for planners, it's all about understanding brands and evolving physical products that move closer to business planning."

Rubins will also look at evolving the PHD team. He says that although most of its recent senior appointments have involved internal promotions, he will look outside the agency for additional senior talent.

There's little doubt that Rubins and Fowles can work well together. They've been close colleagues for several years and are said to have similar approaches, being humanistic and more ambitious for their company and colleagues than for themselves. The challenge they must address, which PHD has confronted before, is to stay relevant in the face of agencies with larger scale offerings that have caught up with PHD's. At least the values of "respect" and "nurturing" will stand out in a crowded market.

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