PHD Becomes Third Shop To Create New Buying Post Enlist Uber Buying

As media shops scramble to prove they are media neutral, at least one maneuver seems to be gaining favor: appointing a single executive to oversee buying across all platforms. Starting today, Omnicom’s PHD becomes the latest agency to do so, hiring John Swift as managing director to oversee everything from broadcast and print to online and emerging media buying.

Swift’s shift to the newly created position comes a month after a similar move by Interpublic shop Initiative, which promoted Tim Spengler to chief activation officer in charge of all that shop’s buying units. And in August, Publicis Groupe’s Starcom elevated Chris Boothe to chief activation officer. Swift, 39 (or Swifty, as he is known to colleagues), has a less-lofty title, but all three execs share essentially the same task, which is to ensure that different buying silos are communicating effectively to assemble the most efficient integrated buying programs for clients.

But not all are convinced of such a position’s value. While some execs argue that it’s necessary in today’s complex media landscape—where ad buys increasingly are done across many platforms and often at the corporate level of the media sellers—others question whether adding yet another layer of management is the best solution.

“You need to put someone in place that has the scope to manage all these new opportunities,” said Daryl Simm, CEO of Omnicom Media Group, who added that Swift, who joins PHD after a six-year stint as director of national TV investment at sister shop OMD, fits the description. “I think it’s a response to the opportunities that are evolving, so it’s a natural evolution, and you are going to see it expand” to other media agencies, he said.

Some consultants said it’s unclear whether having a single agency buying czar is the right strategy going forward. “Aren’t the agencies already integrating how various disciplines are bought and managed holistically?” asked Arthur Anderson, partner in consulting firm Morgan Anderson. Another consultant questioned whether the addition of another layer of bureaucracy wouldn’t simply make these agencies less nimble in the rapidly shifting media environment.

Others questioned its effectiveness for different reasons. “The idea that the best way to get various buying centers to work together is to put one person in charge is crazy,” said the CEO of one media shop. “Who can be an expert at all media platforms? On top of that you have to be an expert on the needs of all your clients.”

Another CEO said qualified candidates are not easy to find: “You’re looking for an individual that has a combination of skill sets, including client management [and] negotiating, and people that have really proven themselves within the organization.”

And while the idea of an uber buyer has appeal for some shops, not all agencies plan to hire one. Case in point: WPP’s MindShare. An agency rep said that the heads of its different buying units report directly into MindShare ceo Marc Goldstein and that there are no current plans to change that structure. “We just don’t see the need for it,” the rep said.

PHD USA president Matt Seiler, to whom Swift will report, said that a big part of Swift’s job would be to examine “the traditional silos and look at the structure more holistically.”

Swift said he’s looking forward to the challenge of the new job. “The opportunity to sit on top of this and try to figure out the best way that we can integrate all these different forms of media to meet our clients needs,” he said, “is extremely exciting.”