PHD Loses More Digital Leadership; Director of Interactive Amy Auerbach

By Matt Van Hoven 

Omnicom’s PHD is no stranger to the effects of an indifferent economy. When we learned that the agency’s New York office lost Amy Auerbach, director of interactive, it was yet another indicator that the media shop is refocusing its attention away from emerging media, and the leadership that once steered their digital ship.

Auerbach’s departure (we’re told she resigned) marks the fourth digital-leadership seat to empty since the middle of this summer.

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Leadership Down
Over the summer, Matt Seiler left the company to become global CEO at Universal McCann. He joined PHD North America in 2004 as president. According to a source close to the agency, Seiler created a forward-thinking culture there, and when he left, some of that spirit went with him.

Then there’s the recent departure of Ashley Swartz, who was svp managing director of emerging media. She told us that the decision for her to move on was mutual, based on a restructuring plan set in motion at PHD. Her position fell victim to reorganization, which begs the question, if a media agency doesn’t have leadership in digital and emerging media, how can it expect to stay ahead of the curve?

(Ed’s note: That’s one question we hoped to ask Melanie Mitchem, the representative at PHD who we’ve been trying to contact. Her voice mail said she was out of town through Oct. 29th; five days later we still haven’t heard from her after repeated attempts.)

Restructuring or Retrenchment?
Swartz’s job was to win clients with digital needs &#151 the kinds of companies willing to take a risk on emerging media executions. But after Seiler left, we’re told that work like Swartzs’ became less of a priority. And because risky-pitches don’t always return on initial investments, jobs like Swartz’s are usually only billable half of the time.

And so it would seem that PHD is retrenching into wholly-billable aspects of their business. The maneuver isn’t out of the ordinary, but without leadership dedicated to developing new media strategies, it’s hard to make a case that you have what it takes to compete in the forefront of media outreach.

Before Swartz parted ways with PHD, we’re told she was working on a pitch to a large, global gaming company &#151 which the agency had already spent $30,000 on. But three days before PHD was set to meet with the client, they pulled out all together, and Swartz had walked away. It’s the kind of win that would have provided the emerging media team longevity and job security; two hard to find assets given the current economic climate.

Perception a False Reality?

And this doesn’t even begin to get into Kevin Maclean, who held Auerbach’s position on the west coast. That is, until he resigned about a month ago. Maclean and Auerbach ran PHD’s online work for the west and east coasts respectively. Swartz, then, was in charge of the new media ventures &#151 and all of it was spearheaded by Seiler.

So when he left, Swartz, Auerbach and Maclean seem to have gotten sucked into the void created by his absence. Without leadership who was willing and able to bring the agency into the “emerging” fold, PHD has merged off that path; or so it would seem.

Auerbach and Mitchem did not respond to our calls by the time this story was published.