Harold Mitchell, a 'fierce' champion of media, has died

By AdNews | 11 February 2024

Adman Harold Mitchell, considered the father of media buyers in Australia, has died aged 81.

The philanthropist, who was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame in 2012, reportedly had complications after knee surgery. 

Mitchell started in advertising in 1960 as an office boy at the Melbourne agency Briggs & James. 

In 1976 he went out on his own and launched the independent media buying company, Mitchell & Partners. From a standing start with $2000, he grew the company into Mitchell Communication Group, ultimately selling to Aegis for $363 million in 2010.

"The family of Harold Charles Mitchell are sad to confirm that on the evening of 10 February 2024 Harold died whilst recuperating from knee replacement surgery," the Harold Mitchell Foundation said

"He was a wonderful man who helped so many. He will be sadly missed."

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says Mitchell’s vision and determination did so much to shape Australian media and communications.

“Harold’s tremendous professional success was matched by extraordinary generosity as a philanthropist across the arts, sport, medical research and education," Albanese says.

Mike Wilson, chair of Hatched, remembers opening Naked Communications in Australia almost 20 years ago.

"The day we launched, Harold was the only agency leader who called me personally to wish us luck," says Wilson.

"Something about 'sticking it to the multi-nationals,' if I recall correctly. It was a gracious and generous gesture, never to be forgotten.

"In many ways, Harold's business and ours were diametrically opposed, and this of course meant we could be successful business partners for a while at least.

"The current indie media agency upswing is a small but fitting part of an enormous industry legacy.

"My thoughts are with Stuart and the Mitchell family."

Aimee Buchanan, CEO, GroupM ANZ, says Mitchell had a monumental impact on her career.

"My first twelve years in the industry were spent working at Mitchell’s/ MPG," she says.

"Four weeks into my first job in 2000, Harold gave all of his staff four tickets to the Olympics, as he wanted everyone to experience that here in Sydney. As a grad fresh out of uni, it will a memory I remember for a long time.

"That and the time I sat in his chair in a meeting with a client. He walked into the meeting and asked me why I was sitting in his seat! My thoughts are with his family and loved ones."

Virginia Hyland, CEO Havas Media Network Australia, says Mitchell truly was an industry pioneer and lived life to the full. 

"He was the inspiration for me to start my own agency. Harold was always willing to share advice about how to do better in the industry," she says.

"Without Harold many independent agencies would not be thriving today as he paved the way forward for many of us to follow. My sympathies go out to his family at this difficult time." 

Sophie Madden, CEO of the Media Federation of Australia, says Harold Mitchell has accurately been called the father of the media buying industry in Australia.

"From launching the first independent media buying company in the country to growing it into one of the biggest and most powerful agencies we've seen, he has had a profound impact on the industry and many people working in it today," she says.

"I have fond memories of working for Mitchells in the very early days of my career and I'm grateful for everything I learned there. Harold was passionate about promoting the value of our industry to the economy and the broader community, and will be remembered as a true pioneer."

Craig Flanders, CEO at Spinach, says everyone who knew and dealt with Mitchell will have more than a few war stories.

"From our point of view he was a great supporter from the start," says Flanders.

"Before we officially opened Spinach nearly 25 years ago, we were bunkered down in a back office in the bowels of the York St offices of Mitchell & Partners getting the business ready to go public. Harold could not have been more supportive. This is very sad news.

"The industry has lost one its true titans. Our thoughts are with Stuart and Amanda.

Mark Coad, CEO Mediabrands Australia, who's been in the industry more than thirty years, can't recall a time when Mitchell has not loomed large.

"Very few, if any, will leave an impression like Harold's," Coad says.

"A visionary that shaped the way this industry is structured today. A feared competitor and a massive contributor to business, to charity and to the community. 

"I never had the privilege to work with Harold, but I did have the chance. In my mid/late twenties I picked up the phone one day to his assistant: 'I have Mr Mitchell on the phone for you.'

"He invited me to breakfast the next morning. I nervously thanked him, put the phone down and thought: Why did I just say yes to that?

"I stewed for 10 minutes before calling his office back to say there was no need to meet, I'm very happy at DDB. 'Who said I was going to offer you a job? See you at 7.30am, Cafe Sweetheart' he said back before hanging up. For those who knew him, they'd understand that approach. A man who was always one step ahead.

"Deepest condolences to Stuart and the Mitchell family."

Peter Horgan, CEO, Omnicom Media Group Australia and New Zealand, says Mitchell and Dennis Merchant were the original media independents and set the path for so many to follow.

"He build a market-leading agency and was a presence who could engage at any level across corporate Australia," Horgan says.

"He was a ruthless competitor, but had a wicked sense of humour. He changed out industry, and will be missed.”

Nick Behr, CEO and founder at Kaimera, missed much of Mitchell's heyday but was there during the years he sold his business three times.

"I never worked directly with Harold but on each occasion I met with Harold, though he was not the tallest man, his presence always made him feel bigger than anyone else," says Behr.

"He had a huge impact on my career having given me the opportunity to run two of his agencies under his ownership. I am one of many careers Harold had a positive hand in - knowingly or not. RIP Harold."

Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes says Mitchell was a visionary and a leader in the media industry over many decades.

"He will also be remembered as a great philanthropist and supporter of the arts and sports," he says.

"Harold was a doyen of the industry and a great friend over the 40 years we had known each other. He had a wonderful sense of humour and a was groundbreaker in the way media was monetised. I enjoyed his company, and he will be missed by us all.”

Harold MitchellJames Warburton, the CEO of Seven, described Mitchell as a "fierce, tough competitor" and a true legend of the Australian media and advertising industry.

"He loved media," he says.

"He was passionate about selling the impact and value of advertising. He was a great friend to the TV industry and many of us learnt a lot from him.

"Our deepest sympathies go to Harold’s family at this very sad time.”

Michael Stephenson, chief sales officer at Nine: ”Harold Mitchell was a passionate advocate for our industry and dedicated his professional career over many decades to improving and supporting it. We extend our condolences to his family and those close to him at this sad time.” - 

Barry O’Brien, Atomic 212° chairman, says it's an incredibly sad day.

“Harold was a powerhouse of the media industry and the platform for many people to start their own agencies," says O’Brien.

"I had the privilege of working with him for several years and I saw, first hand, his philosophy that everyone at the table had to win: the client, the media and his business. As such, he was a true wealth creator.

“Harold was also known for the amazing support he gave to many charities and institutions, all of which benefited from his wide range of connections.”

Mitchell was one of the original advertising innovators and entrepreneurs, says Jules Hall, CEO The Hallway.

"He showed what independent agencies can achieve at enormous scale," says Hall.

"He was an inspiration for me in the early days of The Hallway, and I'm sure for many others.

"I still reference the notes from a wonderful lunch we had together at the European Cafe in Melbourne - some fabulous tips and principles he was kind enough to share. My sincerest condolences to the Mitchell family."

Sam Buchanan, CEO, IMAA (Independent Media Agencies Australia), says the industry has lost one of the greats

"I'm deeply saddened to hear of his passing," says Buchanan. "Harold Mitchell was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. His positive attitude was infectious and remarkable to anyone who worked with or met him. 

"Truly one of a kind, he leaves behind an incredible legacy, having left an indelible mark on the advertising and media industry." 

When Danny Bass, now CEO, media, dentsu, arrived in Australia in the late 1990s, it was clear to him the industry was defined by three: Murdoch, Packer and Mitchell.

"Harold Mitchell was a titan that defined Australia’s media landscape for many decades and must be remembered in the pantheon of Australian media legends," says Bass.

"He was a powerhouse of our industry and passionately believed in the power of advertising. Harold was a fierce competitor, a passionate Australian and a passionate Victorian.

"I worked with him both on media side and as a competitor and once he retired, he was very generous with his time with on me a number of occasions.

"Harold Mitchell’s legacy is one that is hard to capture in a few short sentences, but it is one that lives on in those who knew him and the industry he helped shape into a competitive force on the global stage. His passion for the arts and sports and efforts in philanthropy will also be remembered.”

Harold Mitchell and James Packer.

Mitchell with James Packer

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