The soft tinkle of music rippling through the relaxed atmosphere at Soul may be a far cry from the brasher sounds made by Pulp in its early days, but Mark Swift believes he's come home. A member of Pulp before it hit the big time (he admits he wasn't a very good drummer), Swift's media career has come in a complete circle back to the (almost) full-service agency.
Just as he started out as a graduate trainee at BMP DDB back in 1985, when he sat yards from creatives while learning the art of TV buying, he is back with an agency which claims it is unique in offering media thinking at the heart of its creative output. Swift's task is to head a new operation within Soul, called Soul Space.
This is not a department, Swift emphasises -- Soul doesn't have departments. It's one of the many disciplines on offer to clients. Soul Space will concentrate on forming close relationships with media owners in order to exploit fully the tools they have that can benefit a client's marketing strategy.
Swift, known affectionately in the industry as Swifty, explains: "We will really get under the skin of media owners. If we get to know about what media owners can do then we can hopefully put together better solutions for our clients. Media owners are probably saying they are constantly trying to push ideas. But, with certain ideas, they go into an agency and nothing is done because the buyers don't have the time or they would prefer to put their deals through spot advertising."
Soul Space came out of a conversation between him and his former BMP colleague, Kevin Brown, a founding partner of Soul. Brown believes that Swift can bring a unique set of skills to the agency, broadening its media offering to existing and new clients. "He's very skilled at dealing with media owners," Brown states. "He's very good at relationships and one of the few who have been on both sides of the fence. He clearly understands the needs and desires of media owners."
Swift, 39, has certainly had a good run at agency life, as well as working on the media owner side. After an 11-year stint at BMP, where he progressed to TV buying director, he was hired by Five's deputy chief executive, Nick Milligan. He was taken on as an account director responsible for promoting the channel to agencies and advertisers as it geared up for launch. Milligan says Swift's input was invaluable: "He was the perfect person at a senior level to educate my sales team and give them a broad experience of agency operations. He did it extremely capably and really made a difference in the way the sales team communicated to clients and agencies."
After five years, Swift took up the offer of the sales director's post at Virgin Radio where he could also indulge his love for music. It was here, and at Five, that he perceived a gap in the way agencies dealt with media owners. "At Virgin I worked closely with programming and you can do so much more with radio than with TV. But the majority of revenues are still through spot advertising and there are only a few agencies that have grasped the potential of promotions and sponsorships."
At the beginning of this year he left Virgin without a job to go to. Asked about his reasons for leaving, he simply states: "Sometimes things don't work out." Those close to him say he left amicably, but decided that the sales targets set were unrealistic and he chose to leave rather than accept them.
He wasn't on the job market for long and there were others, apart from Soul, who were keen to employ him. Ivan Pollard, a fellow BMP veteran and a founding partner of Unity, says: "We would have loved to employ him. He's a great new-business guy, a good operator, very smart and the best TV buyer I have ever worked with." He, like Milligan, is also keen to emphasise Swift is "not a trader, but a dealer".
Paul Taylor, the chief executive of OMD UK, who was responsible for hiring Swift as a graduate trainee, believes Swift's new role is a good move for all parties concerned. "It's a good appointment and he's got himself back in quickly. He's got a relevant offering for Soul and Soul is very relevant to him - it's a perfect match."
Just weeks into the job and Swift has already got three projects underway. He has a clear target for what he would like to achieve in his first 12 months. "I would like to have had three or four great case studies, where we have provided clients with consumer insight, fantastic ideas and delivered innovation, and where clients have said that they have consequently sold more product."
Although some would disagree with Brown and Swift's claim that Soul's approach brings a unique point of difference to the market which no one else can offer, industry observers do believe that Brown and Swift will make a formidable team. And Swift quips that if things don't work out: "I will be selling postcards."
The Swift file
1985 BMP DDB, graduate trainee
1990 BMP DDB, TV buying director
1996 Five, account director
2001 Virgin Radio, sales director
2003 Soul Space, director