"I wasn’t looking to leave Carat," begins departing managing director Neil Jones, earnestly. "I’ve been very happy for 18 years and certainly wouldn’t have moved for another agency."
Speaking just two days after Media Week announced that the quintessential media man is to take a leading role in the new-look News International, the Brummie appears slightly shell-shocked. "The BlackBerry hasn't stopped buzzing," he says. "I've had more than 300 messages of support from media owners, clients and agencies."
By Tuesday afternoon, the news had reached the US and he received yet more e-mails from Australia overnight. All congratulate the 44-year-old on landing what promises to be an unprecedented and high-profile role in British publishing. But what has he let himself in for?
As director of commercial strategy, Jones will be responsible for building NI's strategic relationships with advertisers, agencies and other potential partners. He will also be responsible for identifying "new and alternative" revenue streams.
He is under no illusion about the challenges that lie ahead. As a former press buyer at nineties media powerhouse Zenith, Jones has newspapers in his DNA. He knows better than most that the industry has been dogged by more than 10 years of decline in print circulations.
He will also be aware that newspapers' share of national adspend has tumbled from almost 20% in 2000 to an expected 11.2% in 2009 (source: GroupM). And the thousands of job losses across the industry last year won't have escaped him either.
Not the easiest backdrop against which to take up the role, where he will be judged on his ability to generate new revenue, but the man from Sutton Coldfield is resolute. "It's an exciting time to join," says Jones. "News International is in the middle of massive change and has a very clear vision for the future."
Something has convinced the agency leader, known to be an astute operator despite his love of Leeds United, that this is too good an opportunity to miss. And that "something" (apart from money) is probably Paul Hayes, commercial managing director of NI.
The pair have known each other for 20 years, and Hayes anticipated the Carat man would be a strong candidate from the outset.
After the first round of "discussions" involving three other big agency names last autumn, Jones was said to be "head and shoulders above the competition".
The timing of the approach could not have been better, if rumours of growing tension between Jones and Aegis Media's UK and North Europe boss, Nigel Sharrocks, are to be believed. Regardless, the move completes a series of senior hires NI started last summer, with many of them already well acquainted with Jones. It will be particularly interesting to see how his role dovetails with trading director Dominic Carter's.
Together they represent "a significant company restructure", says Hayes, designed to harness the individual and collective strengths of NI's brands. The group looks to move closer to the consumer by positioning itself as a "customer delivery business".
"We are prepared to invest at a time when everyone else is cutting back," claims Hayes, who remains firmly optimistic about the future of newspapers. He adds: "There have never been so many opportunities for those prepared to go for it."
The role Jones is stepping into in mid-April is deemed a pivotal piece in the media owner's jigsaw. He believes his task will be made easier by a "cultural shift" that has seen NI's "slightly arrogant" attitude of old replaced by a willingness to listen to the market and provide non-traditional solutions for clients and agencies.
But doesn't exposing editorial to the commercial running of the business risk diluting the quality of the offering? "Yes," admits Jones, who accepts there is "a fine balance" between keeping an editorial product strong and commercial opportunities high. Sounding more like a newspaperman by the minute, he says the Daily Express "went too far" following the momentous day Barack Obama became president of the United States, when its front page was obscured by a Fiat cover wrap.
One non-traditional area Jones will look at is the opportunities surrounding ROI models, where revenues can be shared based on consumer interest, something that is more prevalent in the direct response marketplace.
He will also develop more integrated solutions across NI's multimedia portfolio, highlighting mobile as an area with "immense potential". Cross-partnership deals between NI and sibling BSkyB are also set to provide more opportunities.
And he remains a strong advocate of print. "There's a reason why supermarkets are directing chunks of adspend into press right now," he says. "It produces immediate returns and, unlike TV, campaigns can be highly flexible with low production costs. Such strengths are invaluable when fighting for immediate footfall."
Everyone who has worked with Jones agrees he knows how to make money. In the past four years at the helm, he has led Carat to £500m of new business. And as he prepares to cross the fence and become ensconced in the UK's biggest newspaper publisher, managing directors and chief executives of agencies large and small should expect some interesting conversations very soon.
2005: Managing director, Carat
2002: Commercial director, Carat
1999: Client services director, Carat
1996: Group account director, Carat
1993: Board director, Carat
1991: Associate director, Carat
1988: Group manager, Zenith
1986: Executive, Saatchi & Saatchi
1984: Marketing executive, Bluebird Confectionery
1984: Graduated in Business Studies from Huddersfield
Family: Married with three boys, aged 12, 10 and eight
Loves: Football (Leeds Utd), skiing, golf
Reads: The Sun and Financial Times
JONES ON ...
Evening Standard sale The Evening Standard hasn't made any money for a long time, but Lebedev's intervention is very interesting. With the right investment and some smart marketing money, I can see it upping its circulation. They've been smart to keep Andy Mullins in the mix; he's a big asset.
The Independent My left field thought is that Lebedev might buy The Indie as well, but is it a viable long-term proposition? If the IN&M titles don't get fresh investment from somewhere, they won't be around in two years' time.
The TV market The 30-second TV spot still represents great value. Viewing figures are actually going up, and in a recession this will only be more pronounced as more people stay in. But the market must become much more flexible: two-month advanced booking deadlines are ridiculous.
Working philosophy No politics, no bullshit; just get on with it.
Normal working day Starts at 7.15am, ends 7.45pm.