When David Pattison, Nick Horswell and Jonathan Durden founded their start-up in London in 1990, they saw a gap in the market for a planning-led independent media agency with a focus on strategic and creative thinking.
A quarter-of-a-century later, PHD has fulfilled those aspirations to be more than "gorillas with calculators" by blossoming into a global network with 3,000 staff and more than 80 offices.
But pleasing symmetry has nothing to do with our decision to honour PHD in its 25th anniversary year. By any measure, this network – which was acquired by Omnicom, via Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, in 1996 – has had a standout 2015. Its new-business record has been particularly strong. PHD won $2.8 billion of billings – double last year’s tally and equivalent to 20 per cent of its global billings.
Highlights included Unilever’s global search, SC Johnson’s global planning, Pokerstars’ global media buying and the retention of Sainsbury’s in the UK. PHD also held on to GlaxoSmithKline and picked up new markets such as Australia.
PHD has thought big and the work has been eye-catching, from the Oreo eclipse (when the Mondelez International biscuit brand coverwrapped The Sun on the day of the solar eclipse) to Androidify (a Google takeover of the biggest digital billboard in Times Square).
The network continued to lead the industry debate, taking Sir Tim Berners-Lee to Cannes to talk about artificial intelligence. Mike Cooper, the Briton who has been PHD’s worldwide chief executive since 2007, has also invested in talent, technology, innovation and culture. The network has more than doubled its number of planners to 150 in a year.
Mark Holden, the worldwide strategy and planning director, is the brains behind Source, an interactive platform that allows PHD’s staff to use "gamification" to plan campaigns, crowdsource ideas from the agency’s global workforce, and access reams of proprietary and third-party data. As part of this drive to maintain and deepen the company’s culture of collaboration, the head of every international office regularly visits the London headquarters.
Moreover, PHD extended its global exchange programme to all staff. The London office itself, under Daren Rubins, has held its own. Winning Twitter, Virgin Atlantic and Magners, plus that crucial Sainsbury’s retention, has more than offset the exit of Mondelez in a global realignment.
Continuity matters to PHD, which can boast that it still looks after its founding client, The Guardian. At a time when media faces intense disruption and unprecedented scrutiny, PHD stands out as a beacon of quality.
Under Dentsu’s ownership over the past three years, the Carat network has flourished.
It has always been something of a new-business machine and 2015 was no different. Carat expanded its relationship with Mondelez, picking up the UK account from PHD and the US from Starcom Mediavest Group. It also retained Arla, expanding that relationship to include Germany. Among the other wins were Procter & Gamble in Spain and the US, Pfizer in the US and Société Générale. And, in October, Carat was named the world’s leading media agency network by the Recma Qualitative Network Diagnostics report.
The network hasn’t been short of innovation this year, either. It launched Connected Buying, which uses data to enable brands to target particular demographics through TV ads.
Key hires included Euan Jarvie, the former chief operating officer for EMEA at MediaCom, and James Harris, the ex-head of agencies at AOL. Carat looks set to seriously challenge for the top spot next time.
MediaCom, which boasts one of the most stable management teams in the business, is always there or thereabouts on the global stage. In 2015, it pulled in 274 new clients – equating to $2 billion in billings – such as Betfair, American Airlines, Bank of China and Anheuser-Busch InBev.
Work highlights included using the movement of players on a football pitch in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas to power the floodlights.
The most-awarded global media network of 2014 built on that success this year by obsessing about four things: a client-first approach, more data-driven marketing, organic growth and investing in new talent. The result was some of the smartest campaigns around, from Channel 4’s Humans to the Sony Pictures launch of Spectre. There were big account wins including Bacardi and JCPenney, and investment in an OMD Academy for training and OMD Idea Xchange for staff to pool ideas.
Recent winners: Starcom Mediavest Group (2014); Group M (2013); Carat (2012); Maxus (2011); Carat (2010)
(This article first appeared on CampaignLive.co.uk)