When Trinity Mirror named the former Leagas Delaney media director Neil Hurman as its new ad director for national newspapers, it left the press buying world somewhat stunned.
It's not that Hurman hadn't been in the running for the job along with quite a few others. But when an appointment was finally made, following the resignation of Roger Eastoe, press buyers had assumed that it would be one of their own that took the post.
Hurman, who was a radio specialist before taking charge of Leagas' media offering, is far from the familiar face they expected. 'He's very respected by his media peers who know him,' one source says. 'But because he didn't play to the limelight and his media offering became less mainstream, there would probably be a lot who don't.'
In the days following Hurman's appointment, various pronouncements rumbled along the industry rumour mill. It was suggested he was an old guard media-type who was unlikely to bring any serious change. His appointment was viewed as Roger Eastoe's last act as managing director of Trinity Mirror newspapers, as much to spite his successors as anything else. But these views were strikingly at odds with Hurman's reputation. 'He's always been a planner. He would always rather think than bluster his way towards solutions,' New PHD's chief executive, David Pattison, who worked with Hurman on Adidas, says. 'Unless he's gone through a 180-degree personality change, then the Trinity Mirror sales team will have a real change in emphasis.'
Perhaps as a result, Hurman does not identify himself with Eastoe. Instead, he emphasises his confidence in Trinity Mirror's upper management to allow him to shake things up. 'I understand why people were concerned about working with Roger,' he says. 'But I knew I could work with Philip Graf.'
Indeed, the choice of the 35-year-old Hurman is most readily explained by a desire to clean out the old ways of doing things. By choosing a planning-minded figure from a strategic background, Trinity Mirror seems prepared to go further down the path of change than many perhaps believed.
Hurman's vision of the future is nothing if not sweeping. 'The good news is that I know what we have to do. We have to define what it is to run a prosperous newspaper business in the digital age.'
As could perhaps be expected, the former full-service agency man sees that definition as involving a client-centred, strategic approach - something that seems almost deliberately at odds with the public perception of his new employers. 'I am here because Trinity Mirror is committed to being smarter,' he says. 'We are about helping companies address their business issues, we are not merely traders of space.'
Hurman has a good reputation for addressing client business issues during his residence at Leagas. 'We often challenge media owners to produce genuine tailor-made solutions to our brands,' Adidas' global media manager, Jason Dawes, says. 'Neil produced some of the strongest work for us that I've ever seen. He's an original thinker and he has a unique ability to take a step back and add a new perspective.'
Little wonder, then, that Hurman's sudden decision to quit Leagas in the summer to set up his own e-commerce consultancy seems to have come as a blow to the agency. 'The guys at Leagas thought a lot of him,' one source says. 'They worked extremely hard to try and keep him there.'
However, the key questions surrounding Hurman's appointment do not involve his own qualities, but his ability to transfer them to Trinity Mirror sales as a whole. The departure of Eastoe and the seemingly imminent removal of the former group advertising director Mark Pritchett removes the obvious old-school checks on his authority. But Hurman still has to inspire his sales staff. Eastoe had a reputation for ruling through fear, something that inspired great inefficiency as every decision was run past him.
An alternative will require the goodwill of Hurman's staff. 'I have to get some momentum going for everyone to buy into the mission,' he says. 'But I can't sell it to people externally without doing so internally first.'
Personnel could prove crucial to Hurman's eventual success or failure in the role. His staff will be crucial in overseeing the mechanics of the business that Hurman does not know inside out. Press directors will want to deal with the new man face-to-face - their unfamiliarity with Hurman making an early high profile all the more vital.
'I'm very happy if I find myself on the other side of the table from a press guru,' Hurman says, showing his enthusiasm for getting out and establishing confidence. 'Maybe I can't summon the NRS figures they could, but that's not crucial to the future of Trinity Mirror. I'm very happy with the cards in my hand.'
THE HURMAN FILE
1987: Ray Morgan & Partners, media executive
1988: Zenith Media, TV buyer
1989: Leagas Delaney, TV buyer rising to broadcast manager
1993: Leagas Delaney, deputy media director Leagas Delaney, media director
2000: Trinity Mirror, advertising director for national titles.