Bringing PHD-ness to the Middle East market

David Pattison, one of the founding fathers of media agency PHD, tells Richard Abbott his plans for the region

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By  Richard Abbott Published  February 5, 2006

Bringing PHD-ness to the Middle East market|~|Pattison,-David-200.jpg|~|Pattison... ‘This is a market that is hungry for ideas. I don’t think it is an ideas-poor market’|~|It is David Pattison’s first time in the Middle East, and he is still finding his feet. “The truth is, I don’t know a lot about this market. I have got a big induction on Tuesday,” he admits. Against the backdrop of the lobby of Dubai’s Emirates Towers hotel, Pattison is here to talk about the rollout of media agency PHD in the region — and to take part in judging the Campaign Awards. With OMD already well established here, parent company Omnicom has chosen PHD to be its second global agency network. Pattison is the ‘P’ in PHD — a co-founder and currently CEO of the London-founded business. And now he is racking up the air miles as he travels the globe launching new PHD offices. A week in Hong Kong and Singapore ended 2005; a tour of Europe beckons this month. “There has always been a desire for a second network but no one really knew what that second network shape would be,” says Pattison. “We have a pretty strong base. The US business is flying and the Canadian business is going to have a very good 2006.” The target for Omnicom is to have one pool of media clients but two media offerings. Where appropriate, its Opera buying group will be set up to add negotiating clout across both agencies. “I thought the big opportunities would be in Europe,” says Pattison. “But if you think about it, the big opportunities for PHD will be in some of the younger media markets. There is a huge opportunity in the Middle East. “I still have to get involved in the business here but what I do know is that it is a hugely entrepreneurial market. But it is clearly a complicated market and you need to have local market people running the local business. It is an absolute requirement. You can’t just jet in from London or New York and sort it out.” Samar Salman is general manager of PHD Middle East, having previously launched MindShare’s operation in the Levant and North Africa. A Dubai office is already up and running. Saudi Arabia will follow this year. Pattison says he will be working with Salman to instill ‘PHD-ness’ into the new offices. “We are not going to be OMD 2. We are not just a dumping ground. We are going to build our own particular culture and values,” he says. Founded in the UK, PHD is credited with being the first to evolve from straight media buying to strategic media planning. “When we launched we were the only agency that talked about planning,” says Pattison. “I still think that separates us because it’s right at the core of what we do. I don’t care what the other networks say — they have all come from a buying position. “Creativity has always been at the centre of what we have done. All of that comes from ideas, ideas, ideas. We don’t care where they come from, we don’t care who has the idea, if they are good ideas we’ll work with them.” PHD’s big idea for 2005 was neuro-planning — the process of using brain scans to identify how consumers make their decisions. It has proved to be very successful —the agency clinched three domestic agency of the year awards in the UK. Pattison wants to attract the best talent that this part of the world has to offer in order to come up with the agency’s next big idea. “This is a market that is hungry for ideas. I don’t think it is an ideas-poor market,” he says. “We talk about being a nice company — and nice is such a crap word — but people who work at PHD say it is a nice place to work. “But just because they are nice doesn’t mean they are not hungry, that they haven’t got an edge to them.” Part of the attraction of PHD, says Pattison, is the fact that it is relatively new in agency terms. “Look, we are not going to win a McDonald’s tomorrow,” he says. “The sort of business we could win tomorrow is business that is in three, four, six markets and is looking to expand from there.” He uses the example of Enterprise Rentacar, which PHD won in the US two years ago. It has now won the business in the UK and Canada too. “It is truly building us a network business and we are growing with them at the same time,” he says. Pattison admits that the wider Arab media industry is largely in the dark about PHD and its credentials, but he believes that the link with Omnicom will get it through some front doors. Expansion across the Middle East is likely, but Pattison refuses to be drawn on any possible growth in the region. He would rather see the network organically evolve and grow as and when its client base demands. “I don’t ever see us being an agency with 100 offices around the world,” he says. “The reason it is called a PHD network rather than PHD International or Global is because I want it to act like a network with each company having an equal standing in everyone else’s eyes.” Pattison is prepared for a future where media agencies will need to offer more tailored services to their clients. With buying operations becoming centralised into buying houses such as Omnicom’s own Opera, agencies will need to offer extra services to secure their share of the advertising dollar. But he firmly believes PHD is well placed for any change. “Our pieces of paper are much blanker than other people’s,” he says. With the Middle East operation now finding its feet, he intends to keep his distance. “My style is get good people in and let them have some room. It is for the next generation to run this business and take the glory.” But anyone who thinks Pattison is here to launch PHD Middle East and then retire to his comfy London office without another thought may want to think again. “PHD matters,” he says. “Half of my working life has been with PHD. It is still my child and if anybody brings it into disrepute I will be more than a little fucked off.”||**||

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