Media Headliner: Wilding arms PHD with real strategic firepower

Unfazed by the mantle he has inherited, David Wilding is the man PHD expects to revive its planning strategy.

Few media agencies, unlike their creative counterparts, could be said to be overburdened by their past achievements. PHD, launched in 1990, is a significant exception.

Under the strategic direction of the mercurial Jonathan Durden, the agency built up a fearsome reputation based upon ideas rather than the simple virtue of media buying specialism.

The founders are long gone but, to a degree, the flame was kept alive by Durden's apprentice, Mark Holden. It seemed to finally flicker out when Holden upped sticks for Australia two years ago.

In March, PHD hired the unheralded David Wilding, a managing partner at Mindshare, as its executive planning director. Wilding, who started in the role three weeks ago, says he is invigorated, rather than intimidated, by the atmosphere at PHD's Telephone Exchange office, a building once owned by the agency founders but since sold to Omnicom.

Wilding says: "I've come to a renowned planning agency as the head of planning. It's like being Liverpool manager after Bob Paisley or Bill Shankly. I'd be mad not to reflect on that history but PHD is in a good position. There's a great opportunity here to do good stuff."

Wilding, who despite the Liverpool FC comparison is a Wolves fan, will slot into a senior management team led by Brown and Daren Rubins, the managing director, and also featuring Hugh Cameron, the former DFGW joint managing director, who is PHD's chief strategy officer. Wilding and Cameron will spearhead PHD's strategic offering, with, Wilding says, Cameron taking a "macro" approach while his will, mostly, be "more micro".

We'll wait to see how this pans out, obviously, but Wilding has some solid ground on which to move. Last year, PHD, which employs more than 50 staff in planning roles, showed renewed potential when it landed the Cadbury account and began to speak again about the importance of generating ideas. Since then, its work for British Heart Foundation and its content arm Drum's work for Sage on recreating The Krypton Factor has won awards at Cannes.

But there is undoubtedly an opportunity for Wilding, who spent eight years at Mindshare, developing ideas for the likes of Nike and ITV, to raise the bar. So what was the attraction? "The reputation and heritage is strong. If you're a planner, you've definitely heard of PHD and we can now do things we maybe couldn't do in the past because of the stronger Omnicom relationship. The culture here is to get things done and it's brimming with confidence because of the recent new-business achievements. Now, we can push the boundaries and deliver the great work people expect from PHD."

Wilding is seen by his contemporaries as the embodiment of the modern media planner - combining strong media craft skills (he started as a press buyer at ZenithOptimedia) with an appreciation of creativity and ideas. Jason Gonsalves, the UK head of engagement planning at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, ITV's creative agency, has worked closely with Wilding on the ITV business. He says: "It's one of the few times I can say there has been brilliant cohesion between creative and media agency; it was open and we were working together. David has the complete respect of clients.

"PHD is a great move for him - the best brands to work for are great brands that have lost their way, that have massive brand equity but need leadership. PHD has Philippa Brown and she's outstanding and now, with David, PHD has brought in some real strategic firepower. He's not one of the 'big names' but he's bloody impressive."

Rubins, who will work closely with Wilding, obviously agrees. But it's telling that the virtues he identifies in Wilding "he's a down-to-earth and likeable guy" seem important at a time when clients, and colleagues, demand consistent focus and delivery. "We didn't want to hire a genius who would shut himself away in a room," Rubins says. "It's all about improving our work and the talent we've got."

The evidence is there that Wilding, who outside work has a young family and commutes each day from the south coast, can cut it. The work he's most proud of is Nike's "nocturnal run" activity, which saw Metro publish a special one-off evening edition to promote the run. He also cites the constant flow of work and challenge of Mindshare's ITV business as something on which he thrived.

However, there are big challenges at PHD, which now has to live up to its "pioneering" positioning. It was in danger of becoming overburdened with the nuances of research and badging its planning processes with fancy names rather than actually delivering ideas for clients. And, unlike other UK agencies, it can't always rely on its nascent network for business (although the recent capture of the Canon business across Europe was a welcome win).

That said, Wilding's aim to "focus on the work" bodes well for an agency reaching for the stars again.

THE LOWDOWN
Age: 33
Lives: Southsea, Hampshire
Family: Married to Ros, with three children - Lydia (six), Ben (four)
and Lola (two)
Most-treasured possession: My camera
Last book read: Enough by John Naish
Interests outside of work: Family, Wolverhampton Wanderers, politics,
running
Motto: Yes we can

Topics