Fawcett Faces New Adventures at PHD

Sep 24, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Dominic Fawcett, PHD’s new worldwide strategy director, says he didn’t go to the Beijing Olympics this summer because he was in the process of changing jobs.
Mr. Fawcett’s career has already taken him to China, and he speaks a little Chinese. When he decided to leave his post at Zenith’s Beijing office in 1998, he did it with style, making the trip back to London with a group of friends on motorbikes with sidecars.
“It was the journey of a lifetime,” Mr. Fawcett said.
They rode along the Northern Silk Route, through Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, and on into Europe.
“There were a few scary moments,” he said. They needed an intervention from Britain’s prime minister to get into Iran and were taken into custody for their own safety in Pakistan, which was in the midst of a nuclear standoff with India at the time, he said.
“I don’t think you can do that trip very easily anymore,” he said, adding that along the way the group met “some of the friendliest people in the world. It’s heart-warming the kind of generosity that people give you.”
Mr. Fawcett recently saw “Long Way Round,” a documentary about actors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman on a worldwide motorcycle adventure, and found it a bit disappointing. He noted that Mr. Boorman spent much of the movie complaining.
“He was always going on about how hard it was,” Mr. Fawcett said. “How hard can it be to be on holiday all the time?”
Mr. Fawcett and his colleagues told the tale of their trip to an audience of 600 people at London’s Royal Geographic Society, complete with about 1,000 slides. They even raised 40,000 pounds for a charity trying to save tigers in northern India.
Mr. Fawcett originally got into the advertising business because it looked like fun. He was born in Cardiff, Wales, and his family moved around when he was a kid, following his father on power industry jobs around the United Kingdom and in Caracas, Venezuela, before setting in Amersham, the London suburb where part of Hugh Grant’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral” was shot. He moved to London, lured by stories that the ad business involved parties, girls and drinking.
“A very good friend of mine, he got a job in advertising working for Saatchi & Saatchi when he was 17 and came home and said, ‘It’s really hard work, but we have a great time.’ And I thought, that’s the kind of job for me,” Mr. Fawcett said. “Things have changed a little bit as I got older and got married, but it was a great time to be in advertising in London in the late ’80s and through the ’90s.”
Mr. Fawcett worked for a short time in telephone sales before landing a job at a small independent ad agency. He started in media at CIA Billett & Co., then moved to TMD Carat.
He moved to China with Saatchi & Saatchi and helped the agency launch its media business Zenith there. Billings grew from $4 million to $70 million in the span of 2½ years.
Business was good in China, and his girlfriend—now his wife—had followed him there from the U.K. as well. But his friends’ plans to drive back to London helped convince him it was time to leave.
He joined Starcom Motive in London, where he worked on a “campaign-of-the-year winner,” before moving on to MindShare, which had just won the Nike account.
“I decided I wanted to run that account. And I got that job,” he said.
After 7½ years, he was running MindShare’s youth group, including Nike, PlayStation, Diesel, Converse and Heineken, when the opportunity came up at sister Omnicom agency PHD.
Mr. Fawcett said PHD enjoys a stronger reputation in London than in the U.S.
Since its launch, it’s been “a company centered on planning and ideas, sort of the antithesis of the big, bulky buying agencies,” he said.
With the work he’s been doing, on the kind of brands where “you’ve got to try to out-think the competition rather than outspend them,” PHD was a good fit. “It’s an international network—they’ve got 48 offices around the world. And obviously with the backing of [Omnicom Media Group] it represents the combination of great thinking with the sort of backup that you have from a large organization. It was not too difficult a decision for me at all.”
At PHD, Mr. Fawcett will be based in London, but he expects to spend a lot of time in the U.S.
A key responsibility will be developing the agency’s communications planning process, called ETNA, and making sure agency staffers are trained to use it.
ETNA stands for Exploration, Thought Leader, Neuroplanning and Action Planning. Its emphasis on Neuroplanning, which employs cognitive psychology to study how the brain receives messages, is one area that separates PHD’s approach from other agencies’.
“These days you have to be a little bit more rigorous,’” Mr. Fawcett said. “If you’ve got super whiz kids who absolutely completely understand everything about media and the client’s business and the consumer, and then you put them through a framework that allows them to organize their thoughts, then you stand a better chance of coming up with relevant and deliverable ideas.”
At home, Mr. Fawcett and his wife have two children, an 8-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son. While in New York last week, he bought them skateboards. His daughter, formerly into all things pink, asked for a black one. Hers features a New York City skyline; his, a row of skulls.
Mr. Fawcett, who has competed in a couple of triathlons, said he loves swimming, particularly in the ocean.
Who Knew: Mr. Fawcett said the bike he rode home from China still runs and is at the home of his father-in-law, who rides it from time to time. The bike is a Chinese version of the 1937 BMW model that Steve McQueen rode in “The Great Escape.” They were “pretty unreliable,” he said, noting that between the five bikes on the trip they had to change gear boxes, exhaust valves, valve springs and about 1,000 spokes. His bike had the fewest mechanical problems. “I didn’t know a lot about bike maintenance before. I don’t know that much now, but I had to learn quite a lot on the way.”


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