It’s a good time to be 21 for Omnicom’s PHD

Media agency PHD, number two to OMD in the Omnicom media line-up, is celebrating its 21st birthday and, although it’s always been a darling of the UK business press it now seems to be establishing itself as a genuine world player, recently winning drug giant GSK’s $1.4bn US account and consolidating its hold on $300m Gap.

PHD was formed by Jonathan Durden, Nick Horswell and David Pattison with financial backing from John Ayling and pitched itself as the thinking client’s media agency (it was helpful that the founders had the surnames they did, maybe that’s why they got together).

It was then bought for £20m by Abbott Mead Vickers and rebranded as New PHD to incorporate the not all that new but highly-respected AMV media director Ken New. AMV and PHD were then bought by Omnicom.

All three founders (and New) have since retired from the agency, Jonathan Durden gaining a brief notoriety in 2007 for his appearance on the reality show Big Brother where his colourful lifestyle (lots of drugs and women) came to the fore.

PHD’s cerebral positioning had come under pressure from the rise of so-called media strategy agencies like Naked and for a long time it seemed to lack the scale to be a really big player worldwide.

But that seems, belatedly perhaps, to have changed and key to this was the appointment of Andrew McLean, formerly the new business wizard at WPP’s GroupM, to head its US operation.

Being a bunch of clever clogs they have produced a commercial to celebrate their birthday with the genuinely clever idea of getting kids to explain how the media landscape will have changed by the time they grow up.

One tiny quibble, they’re all a bit middle class aren’t they? Maybe they’re the offspring of the staff.

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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.