While the likes of Naked's Ivan Pollard and MediaCom's Sue Unerman remain in rude health, there have been several interesting hirings that have thrown a fresh spotlight on the role of the media agency planning director. Or, as they are more usually now known, the strategy director or chief strategy officer.
The latest of these appointments is Stuart Bowden, who is moving to the role of deputy managing director and head of strategy at the Aegis agency Vizeum (see Headliner, page 19). Bowden, the highly rated head of strategy at Mediaedge:cia, will replace Matthew Hook as the agency's most senior planner, after Hook landed a tasty-sounding job Stateside with Aegis. Hook himself became Vizeum's top strategy man less than two years ago, replacing Matt Andrews, who had been lured by the ad agency Mother.
These strategists sure are in demand. And, at times, so much so that the average tenure of a professionally promiscuous senior client or even a Premier League football manager can look lengthy in comparison. This high demand for their services is not just a sign of the impact that a top media strategist can have on client business but also on the structures and services offered by an agency. I wrote last year that there was a pronounced change from the practices of the early part of the last decade that has resulted in the introduction of greater rigour in the top echelons of media planning. A rigour certainly befitting the times.
Yet planning figureheads do, and must, continue to exist. There are dangers in this type of "star" system of which the self-aware, such as Bowden, are highly conscious. Bowden criticises the past trend for head of strategy "rock stars" who failed to impact on client business despite high profiles and salaries. But there's equally a danger that strategy chiefs stray too far the other way. Away from the strategy as they become sucked into tedious internal management discussions better served by others on the board. It has happened time and time again and tends to push those concerned out of the media industry or into the arms of ad agencies.
While it's obvious that agency strategy chiefs can ill afford to waste client time and money, it seems equally important that the maverick, individual spark shouldn't entirely disappear from the emerging generation of strategic leadership. Thankfully, judging by the likes of Bowden, David Wilding at PHD, Stephen Farquhar at ZenithOptimedia and Stuart Sullivan-Martin at MEC, today's best thirtysomething planning directors are capable of combining rigour with imagination. And agencies that can supply this rigorous imagination to clients will be best placed to face the decade ahead.