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PHD Network

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PHD is the secondary media brand within the Omnicom group, working alongside OMD. It was originally a small British agency, a satellite of AMV BBDO. But during 2001, the brand was extended to Omnicom's standalone North American media shops to create a new Anglo-American network. Four years later the agency began expansion into other international markets as well. Although PHD is still one of the smaller media networks it has an unrivalled reputation for strategic planning, and that has allowed it to capture a string of major accounts over the past few years. It was the recipient of several Agency of the Year awards as a result of spectacular growth between 2010 and 2012, and took that prize again in 2015 from Campaign. That steady growth was capped by the win of Volkswagen Group's global media in 2016. In the UK, the agency also manages a small collection of satellite units including full service media shop Rocket and content and sponsorship specialist Drum.


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Adbrands Daily Update 8th May 2019: Omnicom Media Group made changes to its senior executive team following the retirement of Colin Gottlieb, previously regional CEO for EMEA. PHD CEO Mike Cooper moves up to lead OMG in both EMEA and also the Asia Pacific region. He will continue to be based in London. He is replaced at PHD by Philippa Brown, previously head of OMG in the UK.

Adbrands Weekly Update 18th Jan 2018: Omnicom announced the merger of UK media agency Rocket - traditionally a satellite of PHD - into the local office of Hearts & Science, the data-driven media network set up originally to handle P&G and AT&T. All Rocket staff and clients will transfer to the expanded Hearts & Science. H&S UK's Frances Ralston-Good is CEO of the combined agency, with Rocket's Mark Girling becoming chairman. Both agencies already worked side-by-side in Omnicom's Bankside building

Adbrands Weekly Update 23rd Mar 2017: UK supermarket retailer Sainsbury's backtracked on the assignment of its UK media account to M/Six, the WPP-CHI & Partners joint venture. According to Campaign, incumbent agency PHD filed a complaint with the Sainsbury board, alleging that the process had not been conducted fairly. As a result, the pitch has been reopened for re-evaluation.

Adbrands Weekly Update 16th Jun 2016: It's already looking like this year will see a round of major account reviews to match last year's "mediapalooza". One of the last hangovers from that media frenzy came to its bloody conclusion this week with the axeing of long-time partner Mediacom as global media network for Volkswagen Group's massive €2bn budget. Instead, in a triumph for Omnicom over WPP, the business will transfer to PHD from January 2017. The latter agency already manages the Porsche brand in several countries as well as other high-end marques, but it will now also take over all the group's mass-market autos, including Seat, Skoda and Audi as well as VW. Omnicom's DDB is the Volkswagen brand's main creative network. It is thought to be PHD network's biggest ever account win. In several markets, including the US, Omnicom will create a dedicated unit within the agency to handle the account.

Adbrands Weekly Update 26th Nov 2015: As rumoured last week, Unilever has indeed concluded its global media review, reappointing the incumbents without any significant changes. Main account holder Mindshare retains all its current markets, but added some Eastern European countries previously managed by PHD. However, the latter retained China and Initiative kept hold of Russia (and also Greece). PHD had already been awarded Australia and New Zealand during the summer, while Initiative's Latin American assignments were not under review.

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As a result of rapid expansion since 2006, PHD's network had come to include some 81 offices in more than 70 global markets by the end of 2013. Advertising Age estimated global revenues of $572m, including $105m (18% of the total) in the US. The capture of the massive €2bn global Volkswagen Group media account was a huge victory in 2016, earning the network the title of Media Network of the Year from both Adweek and Campaign.

PHD was originally an exclusively British operation, long regarded in the UK as a pioneer in media planning. Although specialist strategic planning boutiques such as Naked (itself a breakaway from PHD) stole much of PHD's glory in the early 2000s, the agency continued to lead the field in the development of new forms of media communication, not least with the creation of a wide collection of specialized units offering everything from branded content to niche planning disciplines.

PHD UK is still best known for its media planning, a discipline in which it excelled during the 1990s, but it is also a strong second-ranking media buyer. The main UK agency also houses a variety of specialist units. Sister unit Rocket Media is a strategic planning and buying agency that also develops creative executions. It absorbed the group's regional agency PHD Compass during 2006. Drum claims to be the UK's leading event and broadcast sponsorship agency, and also houses a branded content production unit, Drum Screen, and sports sponsorship agency Drum Sports. It launched a New York office in 2010, and may also move into other markets as well. Regional planning and buying tends to be centred at PHD North, based in Manchester.

PHD UK had an exceptional year in 2010, not just defending three of its biggest accounts in a reviews, but also building on them by capturing the consolidated Kraft/Cadbury business. It lost none of its existing clients during the year, while also adding several new ones. As a result it was named as Media Agency of the Year by both Campaign and Marketing in 2010, and again in 2011. Marketing selected it once more in 2012, making a consecutive three-year sweep. Nielsen (in Campaign) estimated billings of £340m in 2016, making it the country's #10 media agency. Key clients that year included Sainsbury's, Warner Bros, Seat and Confused.com. Rocket contributed a further £85m from clients such as the Co-op and Ferrero.

UK corporate entity PHD Media Ltd reported gross billings of £403m for 2016, down 9% on the year before. However, turnover was up 10% and gross profit rose 7% to a best-ever £40.5m, and net profits by 8% to £7.4m. There were an average of 308 staff during the year.

The North American network now comprises five offices nationally in the US, as well as two in Canada. Some of PHD's North American outposts were previously independent agencies, acquired by Omnicom over the years and gradually rebranded. They include Creative Media, now PHD San Francisco; and PHD Canada, founded in 1979 as Harrison, Young, Pesonen & Newell (HYPN), which became part of PHD in 2002. Touché Media in Montreal joined the network in 2005 and is now Touché PHD. Advanswers, later PHD St Louis; and Pentacom, formerly Omnicom's dedicated DaimlerChrysler media agency, and later PHD Detroit, both closed following account losses.

Omnicom took its first steps towards creating a media-negotiating giant like Interpublic's Magna Global and WPP's Group M in May 2004 when it pooled the UK media negotiation for OMD, Manning Gottlieb OMD and PHD in new unit OPera, which functions as a joint venture between OMD and PHD. The OPera unit has since been rolled out to several other markets.

After several years in which its operations were limited to the UK and North America, Omnicom announced aggressive plans to establish a full global network in early 2006, establishing offices in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Europe, mostly from within existing Omnicom resources. Chief among these was Mediawise, a mini-network established in several Asian markets since 2000, as well as in Scandinavia and the Czech Republic. It adopted the PHD brand. At the same time, an umbrella entity, Omnicom Media Group, was created to manage the activities of PHD as well as the group's other media interests. The PHD brand was extended to Australia for the first time in 2008 with the absorption of an existing media agency, formerly Total advertising & Communications. In 2011 the network acquired South Africa's Page Three Media, now Page Three PHD.

Its impressive growth in the Asia Pacific region - not least in its capture of Unilever's media account in China from global incumbent Mindshare - earned the accolade of Media Network of the Year for the region from Campaign in 2010. In addition to this and the similar awards in the UK and US, it was named Media Agency of the Year in 2010 in several other markets including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and China. Adweek picked PHD again as Global Media Agency of the Year for 2012. The capture of Volkswagen Group in 2016 earned PHD Media Network of the Year accolades from Adweek in the US and Campaign in the UK.

PHD's original founders no longer have any connection with the business. David Pattison left in 2006 to join interactive media agency i-level, and has since moved on to other ventures; Jonathan Durden stepped down in 2007, initially joining Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy. He subsequently became a contestant on reality show Big Brother, and is now a freelance writer and consultant. Nick Horswell still works out of PHD's London offices, offering business mentoring services under the Uncle banner.


David Pattison and Jonathan Durden first joined forces while working for independent media buyer John Ayling & Associates in the early 1980s. Mid-decade they both joined fast-expanding WCRS, eventually becoming joint media directors. Nick Horswell filled the same role at FCO, which also became part of the WCRS group towards the end of the 1980s. When WCRS was carved up in 1989, all three jumped ship to set up their own agency, backed by former mentor John Ayling who took a 20% stake in the fledgling business.

Pattison Horswell Durden's first client was The Guardian newspaper. Business grew rapidly and within five years billings had topped £100m. In 1996 the company was acquired by Abbot Mead Vickers for up to £13m, paid over a five-year earn-out period. The agency was merged with AMV's own inhouse media department, run by Ken New, and rebranded as New PHD. It spun out a series of subsidiary businesses the same year, including New PHD Compass, initially a joint venture with regional advertising agency Cogent; events and sponsorship agency Drum PHD; and strategic media planner Rocket. This was followed a year later by Partners PHD, initially a joint venture with Partners BDDH, later brought in-house; other specialist arms including Space Station and Apollo launched over the following years.

In 2000, following the spin off of BBDO and DDB's North American media departments into OMD, Omnicom gave PHD lead status within a new network that linked the UK outpost with its existing media independent brands Creative Media and Advanswers in the US and HYPN in Canada. Despite this elevation in their status, some of New PHD's senior management began to develop itchy feet following the end of their earn-out period in 2000. Chairman Ken New left at the end of that year, followed by Nick Horswell in 2001. Another blow was the departure of three other senior managers in 2000 to form their own strategic planning agency, Naked. However the agency continued to hold its own in the UK market, widely credited as the country's foremost planning agency as well as a heavyweight buying shop.

In 2002, dedicated US-based DaimlerChrysler media agency Pentacom was folded into the PHD network. At the same time, Creative Media, Advanswers and HYPN were also rebranded under the PHD banner. However, the UK agency suffered a terrible year in 2004, losing several key pieces of business, including HSBC and O2. The following year demonstrated a decisive return to form, with PHD capturing a string of major accounts including the AA, additional business from Bayer, BMW and Mini. It swept the board in the end of year awards for 2005, named Media Agency of the Year by all three trade papers Campaign, Marketing and Media Week.

Last full revision 9th July 2017

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