Media shop PHD crashes the big league with $1.4bn GlaxoSmithKline win

By beating incumbent WPP-owned MediaCom, Publicis Groupe’s Starcom and Havas’ Media Planning Group in one of the biggest media account moves of the year.

The win (drugs giant GSK is America’s 18th biggest advertiser) is a huge coup for PHD, not so long ago seen as the runt of the (two pig) Omnicom media litter alongside giant OMD.

And this latest triumph comes just a week after fashion retailer Gap consolidated its $300m global business into PHD.

How has this former six stone weakling managed to land knockout punches on its bigger rivals? Well it must have something to do with the appointment of Andrew McLean as CEO.

McLean was formerly the chief business development officer of MediaCom, which won’t be best pleased to see him pinching one of its biggest accounts. And it looks as though he was just what PHD needed, a pragmatic schmoozer to add a bit of edge to a media agency that’s always been clever and creatively-minded.

PHD was formed in the UK over 20 years ago when three full service media department refugees David Pattison, Nick Horswill and Jonathan Durden secured backing from John Ayling of John Ayling Associates to launch their own agency.

It was subsequently sold to Abbott Mead Vickers (later to join Omnicom as AMV/BBDO) for a most welcome £20m. The proceeds of this are still helping my old chum John Ayling to fly over to watch the Ashes test series between England and Australia (assuming he can get a flight out of snow-drenched Britain).

But in Omnicom PHD seemed to languish a bit, regularly winning prizes as opposed to billings. Certainly nobody could have foreseen that it would emerge (fleetingly maybe, who knows?) as the world’s hottest media shop.

The powers-that-be at WPP and Mediacom will certainly be taking it seriously. And wondering how the hell they allowed new business ace Andrew McLean to escape.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.