Hurman signals OMD's new approach

OMD UK's new strategic development director Neil Hurman explains why his role signals a new approach to bringing in the big business. Julia Martin reports.

It quickly becomes clear that Neil Hurman is a pretty media-savvy guy. OMD UK's new strategic development director is keen to lay out the parameters of this interview from the word go, and, while appearing relaxed as he chats away, he's clearly very conscious of what he's saying. Hardly surprising though, as his wife is a journalist - in fact, a former editor of Media Week.

The couple met in the 1980s when both were working at the trailblazing Ray Morgan & Partners. It was a solid first rung on a ladder which has seen Hurman move up the agency world from TV buying to more strategic roles, via a spell at a media owner and even a failed foray into dotcom entrepreneurialism with a "funky" investment banker.

The great lesson learnt from the experience?: "Money men are from Mars, marketing men are from Venus."

Hurman's eclectic CV has given him what he describes as a unique position in the media world, and is why managing director Robert Ffitch feels he is the perfect man for this newly-created role.

"Neil is particularly good at talking to senior clients about their communications strategy - we wanted to take that to board level in the OMD family," Ffitch says.

"There are few heavy hitters in media and I think Neil is one of them."

The role marks a significant shift in the agency's approach to chasing new business. Rather than simply throwing itself at every account review that raises its head, the group is set on taking a far more proactive - even predatory - stance. Hurman's role will see him identifying clients "who we think we can help and who we would want to work with", then going after them.

Building relationships

"The group had an incredibly busy year last year - probably too busy," he admits. "We need to be more in charge of our own destiny, growth-wise. It's about building relationships with the sort of clients and sectors important for our growth."

Much of this target identifying has already been done, and it does not take a genius to work out what those sectors are, he says. Just as well, as he is not going to reveal them anyway.

Their strengths lie in sectors like entertainment, cars and fashion, with clients such as Sony BMG, Citroen, Reebok and French Connection, which may offer a clue to where there are gaps to plug.

"My primary responsibility is to get a foot in the door and get us to pitch," he says. It's a step back from managing the day-to-day of the business, which he has been heavily involved in up until now as part of a managing triumvirate with Ffitch and Phil Nunn. Instead, Hurman will now sit on the group board of directors, with Ffitch, with responsibility across OMD UK.

Moving out of the office he has shared with fellow managing partner Nunn for the past year will be a change, he admits (although perhaps a welcome break from Nunn's infamous singing recitals), but one for which he is ready. He is someone who, as demonstrated by his hopscotching career path, thrives on new challenges.

"I'd be lying if I said I don't get bored easily. I like problems - I respond well to the buzz of a pitch," he says. It helps that he feels the new job is more up his street.

"It panders much more to my strengths, which is problem-solving," he says. "I'm a fairly self-contained character. I'd describe myself as a social animal who's very comfortable working on my own."

His experience talking with clients about creative work, thanks to his days in full-service type agencies, will also be invaluable, he claims. And not only that, but his time as advertising director for the Mirror Group has given him a view from the other side of the fence.

Under pressure

"I'm comfortable talking about brands and creative work, but also the commercial pointy end of PLCs - I understand the pressures and expectations they're under and the pressures they need to place their agencies under," he says.

These pressures include what he describes as "the white heat of accountability".

He adds: "One of the lessons I learned at the Mirror Group was that academic conversations about brand benefits are great, but we've got a quarter target to hit and the management team aren't going to be around for long unless we hit them. I was in the management meetings when the marketing director had left the room, and that's an interesting place to be."

But he has no immediate urge to return to a media owner. "The agency is my natural home and this is a great company to be working for," he says, in perfect PR mode, though he seems utterly genuine. He certainly doesn't have his eye on any of the other networks, anyway.

"I couldn't be happier right now. Omnicom is cash rich and willing to invest in its people. I don't look at the landscape and think 'there are better places to work'.

"Impressing Nick (Manning, chief executive) over the next 12 months is my main concern now."

CV

2006: Strategic development director, OMD

2003: Managing partner, Manning Gottlieb OMD

2000: Advertising director, Mirror Group Newspapers

2000: (May to October) Failed dotcom entrepreneur

1989: From TV buyer to media director, Leagas Delaney

1988: TV buyer Zenith Media Buying Services

1987: Junior "cuttlefish" Ray Morgan and Partners.

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