Media Headliner: OMD's Francis plays the team game in Europe

In his new role, the managing director of OMD Europe puts emphasis on digital and content. Ian Darby investigates.

Simon Francis, the recently installed managing director of OMD Europe, arrives mob-handed for a meeting to discuss the new management team he has put in place.

Six colleagues sit with him in a room in OMD's London HQ, which is dominated by a recent delivery in time for the World Cup: a giant Bravia HDTV set, courtesy of the network's Sony client.

The experience is not as disorienting as it might be, because some of those present are already well-established players in the OMD Europe hierarchy, which has been restructured following Omnicom Media Group's creation of the PHD network. This roll-out saw Hilary Jeffrey, previously OMD's general manager across Europe, move to run PHD. Francis was then promoted following the elevation of Colin Gottlieb, OMD Europe's chief executive, to the chief executive of Omnicom Media Group across the region.

New faces at OMD Europe include Sheryl Norman, hired as the head of digital from Coca-Cola, where she was the head of integrated marketing services, and Johan Boserup, who has moved from OMD in Denmark to become the trading director. They join a team already containing Nikki Mendonca, the marketing director; Mary Stewart-Hunter, the research director; Ian Lomas, the operations director; and Andrew Lord, the director of the branded-content joint venture, Fuse. Paul Coleman, previously based at OMD in France, who replaces Francis in his previous strategy director role, is the only absentee.

Francis argues that the team is now better placed to help deliver on OMD's proposition of "the power of ideas". "We will always be the most creative of the big buying houses," he says. "The proposal to clients is now about creativity in every aspect of the business."

Hence the arrival of Norman to spearhead OMD's digital offering and Lord's recent defection from MindShare to work in the con-tent area.

OMD has evolved strongly in Europe from something that was, in Francis' words, "pretty shit" five years ago to a network that bills EUR9 billion across the region. It is now a close second to Carat in the battle to be the largest European network, according to Recma. However, it has been perceived as something of a slow developer in areas such as digital.

This, Francis says, is because digital has always been seen as a part of the whole at OMD rather than marketed separately. "We'd love not to have to have OMD Digital but then people say, 'Where's your unit?'" he explains.

Like the other heads of discipline (or "community leaders" in OMD parlance), Norman will support the needs of local offices rather than "operating a big empire with overheads". This is typical of the approach of OMD Europe's central team with its leaders functioning, as Francis puts it, as "coach, mentor and despot to drive changes". So OMD runs "bottom to top", with the European team supporting local chief executives where needed.

Some outsiders are critical that, despite the strength of OMD Europe, it still has work to do in building its "rounded offering" through digital and content. They also argue that much of its success is down to teams in local markets such as the UK and Germany.

A bit harsh perhaps, given that many of OMD's larger new-business wins, such as Vodafone and McDonald's, have been pan-European or multi-market rather than won through local markets.

Gottlieb still has the title of OMD Europe chief executive in addition to his Omnicom Media Group role, so what role is there for Francis in taking responsibility for the day-to-day management of the network? "While expanding PHD, I don't want OMD to take its eye off the ball, so Simon is the perfect, high-octane director to push this forward," Gottlieb says.

The role of managing director is also something of an audition for the chief executive job and Gottlieb feels Francis' ambition will stand him in good stead: "Each member of the team is larger than life and has the freedom to operate."

Francis started his media career as a press buyer at Zenith Media, in a team that included Carat's Neil Jones, Clare Myerscough, now at Times Newspapers, and Magna's UK chief executive, Roy Jeans. Jones, now the managing director of Carat, says: "I'm not surprised Simon's done well - he's a ballsy, forthright chap. He was also cheeky, energetic and keen to progress."

Francis was then part of Zenith's first planning department, established by Andy Tilley. Then came a stint at Leo Burnett's media department before he moved over to the account-handling side to look after Kellogg: "I enjoyed working on the creative side but I didn't find it was rewarding - it's not as creative being a suit in an ad agency as a good, strong media person."

Then came his time at MindShare, where he held senior roles including strategic planning director and director of futures. This period also saw him work on capturing business including Nike, Pepsi and Heineken.

Not everyone appreciated Francis' approach ("He was always talking about media moving from interruption to engagement but then not delivering very much," one critic says) but he impressed Gottlieb enough for him to hire him in 2002.

Now Gottlieb hopes Francis can help take OMD to another level: "With Simon you've got somebody firing on 12 cylinders - he wants excellence and is demanding of himself and the people around him."

Age: 38
Lives: Kingsfold in West Sussex
Family: Wife, Laura; girls Tabitha (6), Poppy (3); dogs Otto and Archie;
fish Flip and Flop; and Mackerel the cat
Interests outside work: Racing road bikes, triathlons and I'm a
professional fly-fishing instructor
Best thing about working across Europe: Well, my girls think it's
because they have an enormous snow-globe collection. For me, it's about
discovering great ideas and great people
Favourite ad: Dunlop featuring Velvet Underground and Lou Reed
Last book read: I read Dr Zeuss to Poppy and Tabitha last night. Does
that count?


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