Media Perspective: A woman's touch can work wonders at media agencies

Gordon Brown sounds like a pussycat. Allegations of jabbing a car seat with a marker pen and pushing secretaries aside from typewriters seem to describe relatively mild antics when set against some of what I've witnessed from the likes of senior journalists and media agency directors.

But the focus on his apparent behaviour does draw attention to the issue of management style under pressure and just what is acceptable under duress.

It must be tremendously difficult in the pressure cooker scenarios often encountered in media agencies for management to keep their cool. That senior people usually maintain their balance is down to the professionalism of many of the leaders who often possess countless positive characteristics to compensate for the occasional outbursts of frustration.

Yet media retains its reputation for aggression and continuing to be a tough environment in which to operate. Overtly masculine values are often seen as being necessary to succeed and, as I've said, these aren't all positive.

So I was interested in Jonathan Durden's observations (made in Campaign's feature last week to coincide with the 20th anniversary of PHD's launch) that there has always been a core of "femininity" running through the agency. And he didn't just mean that PHD has been led by senior women (which it has) but also said that he and his fellow founders possessed values that he himself ascribes as feminine - marked in his eyes as decency, reason and a less-overt aggression.

Values not confined to women but, on the whole, senior women I've come across are more capable of exhibiting grace under pressure, a much-needed attribute at media agencies. So it's reassuring perhaps to see that there are some impressive women running media companies now.

Aside from media owners (and that most competitive of media companies, News International, is led by a female chief executive, Rebekah Brooks), we've got the likes of Philippa Brown running Omnicom Media Group and PHD. A Brown who is definitely no pussycat but seems to exhibit passion rather than aggression. Lindsay Weedon, a former PHDer balancing the Group M testosterone as chief executive at Maxus, and Jane Ratcliffe, the respected chief executive of MediaCom, who has managed to combine fierce professionalism and competitiveness while instilling a caring, almost family ethos into the grain of the agency.

Much more can be done, of course, to smash the glass ceiling that means, according to the 2009 IPA Census, just 21 per cent of management roles at agencies are occupied by women. But those senior women who do populate the media landscape have done much to infuse its culture, not just in terms of overt business success, but in contributing to a greater level of balance and professionalism in its leadership.

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