Media Headliner: Walker Media's modest hero shuns the limelight

Despite steering the agency into the top ten, Phil Georgiadis' industry profile remains understated, Alasdair Reid writes.

Walker Media's chief executive, Phil Georgiadis, can be forgiven for suffering the odd twinge of angst about his standing in the media business. After all, over the past couple of years or so he's seen some of his contemporaries achieve Hall of Fame status and move on to pastures new. The likes of Mark Cranmer and David Pattison, for instance. Big hitters who feel they have done all they can in the mainstream media agency business.

Whereas Georgiadis, a man of arguably equal talent, is only just emerging as a major player. His time has barely begun. At least that's what he feels people might be saying about him. Don't they? And if they do, does it matter?

Well, no, it doesn't, he reflects, snapping out of this mood of introspection. He has actually, if he were being immodest, achieved something that none of his contemporaries have done - he's been instrumental in launching a media agency that's made it into the top ten through organic growth.

Walker Media's arrival in the top ten was largely down to its huge coup in landing the £70 million Barclays account back in March 2006 - a win that helped double the agency's staffing levels (from 58 to 120), not least within its online division, Walker-i, which evolved from an afterthought staffed by two into a fully fledged department (one that's fully embedded and integrated with the rest of the agency, Georgiadis is keen to point out) of 28, headed by Mark Syal.

But, Georgiadis adds, the Barclays win, though hugely important and thoroughly satisfying, is not the whole story. Billings from existing clients increased by £45 million last year - so, strip out Barclays and you're still looking at 10 per cent growth. And although there has been the odd quantum leap along the way, the agency's evolution, he points out, has been pretty steady across its nine-year existence.

There might just be a reason for that. While the rest of the agency world is prone to dangerous enthusiasms for all sorts of passing fads and fancies, Walker Media maintains an uncompromising faith in its mantra - that it's the duty of media agencies to deliver effective advertising reach and frequency. Sounds boring, but there you are, he says. It's the only thing that really works.

It also helps that the agency has been able to maintain its full- service media credentials. It buys everything it plans and it plans everything it buys. He adds: "We aren't frightened to champion the obvious, even if it appears to be old-fashioned. We're not afraid to reduce the number of channels in use, for instance, as opposed to the sorts of multimedia fireworks displays that burn themselves out overnight. Agencies that feel obliged to use five or more media on a campaign shouldn't be surprised if the campaign doesn't work."

Some top ten media agencies are currently failing their clients on other issues too, he insists. For instance, they're blatantly misleading them when they argue that certain sorts of online activity translate into media exposure.

Later, he apologises (quite unnecessarily) for what he feels might have come across as a bit of a rant. "Some people say I'm too serious and intense, and potentially long-winded. Perhaps I think too much. But I don't mind being characterised as someone who is passionate and honest."

In fact, you suspect, he's rather proud of that badge. He's not ashamed of being emotional. When we do the "lowdown" questionnaire, we joke about the sort of person who puts "my children" in the "most treasured possessions" box. Then he makes the interviewer feel rather small by revealing that, actually, he's one. He feels a particular attachment to his children heightened by the fact that one of his twins had a rather tenuous grip on life in his first year.

And he's not the sort of person who'll ever feel comfortable boasting about his collection of self- indulgent motor cars - he bought a vintage Aston Martin last year, he reveals, but it has been sitting, unloved, in the garage ever since.Where it will remain, you suspect, while he continues to work as hard as he does, particularly on the Barclays account (way beyond what was promised, he reveals).

But further into the future, what's in store for the agency? More steady growth, he maintains - and he's confident that it can maintain its character, values and principles as it does so. The agency's ownership by M&C Saatchi gives it stability - and absolutely no political problems. The M&C deal, concluded in 2004, also means he need never worry about money again.

And as for those moments of introspection, blame Christine Walker. In the nicest possible way, of course. It's unfortunate, some say, that Georgiadis has never had his name above the door. It's only recently, as Walker has taken more of a back seat, that he's been able to capture his share of the limelight.

But he can't emphasis strongly enough that he remains supremely happy with his lot. He doesn't (touch wood) have to put up with the sort of sour network politics that have sapped the energies of some of his contemporaries. And you can't buy job satisfaction, he points out. "There are very few people in this business who've been around as long as I have and still enjoy what they do," he concludes.

Age: 44
Lives: Chiswick
Family: Wife and three children: Olivia, 14, Toby and Bella, both four
Most treasured possession: Vintage Aston Martin with my children in it
Interests outside work: Reconstructing my house as a temple to design
Favourite TV show: Cracker
Favourite ad: The Marks & Spencer Christmas commercial starring Shirley