Industry Profile: PHD Australia chief strategy officer Stewart Gurney

By AdNews | 16 May 2017
Stewart Gurney

Our Industry Profile takes a weekly look at some of the professionals working across the advertising, ad tech, marketing and media sector in Australia. It aims to shed light on the varying roles and companies across the buzzing industry.

For our last profile we spoke with Hatched GM Stephen Fisher.

This time we speak to PHD Australia chief strategy officer Stewart Gurney.

Duration in current role/time at the company:

Five years at PHD and two months in current role

In one sentence, how would you describe what the company does?

Use smarts, creativity and consumer understanding to find a better way for our clients.

In one sentence, what does your role involve?

It's 10% business consultancy, 15% research, exploration and interpretation, 20% creative thinking and ideation, 10% storytelling, 30% leadership and people management, 10% global/regional connectivity and 4.5% inspiration (0.5% timesheets). 

Within the last six months/year, what stands out as the company’s major milestones?

2016 was a big year for PHD Australia. Not only did we win VWG, GSK, 7-Eleven and grow our workforce by nearly 40%, but we also moved offices in Melbourne and Sydney and welcomed a new MD. Huge change for any agency. Despite these successes, the thing we are all exceptionally proud of is that we managed this change in a way that allowed us to stay uniquely PHD. We’ve been able to build on our values of Courage, Curiosity and Collaboration and retain a genuinely enviable agency culture.

See here for: Stepping out of the shadows: the story behind PHD's remarkable rise

Best thing about the industry you work in:

The double-edged sword of uncertainty and opportunity. Our world is changing in really interesting ways and this is having a profound effect on media agencies and our roles within the marketing mix. Personally, I think this is really exciting. What I do now will not exist in the same guise in five to 10 years time. The dynamism of needing to stay relevant and informed is something I really love.

Previous industry related companies you have worked at:

MediaCom (UK), Vizeum (UK), PHD

Career-wise, where do you see yourself in three years’ time?

Personally I’m at an interesting crossroads in my career. I can continue down the path of technical skills and continue along the strategy route or take a more of agency leadership role. I was very fortunate last year to be part of The Marketing Academy. Eight months of mentoring, lectures, seminars and whole heap of reflection helped me come to the realisation that I can bring my strategic capabilities to a wider agency leadership role. So, hopefully in three years I’d like to be well on my way down that path.

What is the elephant in the room? The thing that no one is talking about – but they should be.

The AI revolution. Well to be honest I think A LOT of people are talking about it but very few people are actually doing anything about it. At PHD we’ve done a lot of work in this space and are starting to build the capabilities and infrastructure to actually take advantages of this massive cultural shift.

Tell us one thing people at work don’t know about you?

I used to be a professional dancer and can still do the worm (when drunk) and the splits (when very very drunk).

Top networking tip:

Sort out your LinkedIn.

My favourite restaurant for a business lunch is:

I work in strategy… I never get taken anywhere.

My favourite advert is:

The British Airways #lookup out-of-home panel. A really simple and beautiful execution fuelled by interesting data.

My must-have gadget is:

Google Home - can’t wait for it to come to Australia.

My favourite media is:

I have to say cinema. It’s one of the few places really immersive media environments that genuinely captures people’s attention and imagination.

My favourite TV show is:

Ru Pauls drag race. Check it out - its literally amazing.

The last book I read:

‘We are all completely beside ourselves’ by Karen Joy Fowler. It’s a great beach read with an awesome twist.

My mantra / philosophy is:

Just be better. 

I got into advertising because:

After uni my flatmate said I would hate media because all they did was look at spreadsheets all day (she rather smugly had just got a job at a creative agency) . So I went for an interview, got the job and loved it. I’m still pretty average at excel but a whiz at Google images.

If I wasn't doing this for a living, I'd be:

Selling coconuts on a beach. 

In five years' time I'll be:

MD of a new type of agency that uses algorithms and machine learning to make most of its clients short term media decisions. This will allow us to focus on in driving long-term brand fame and talkability - unleashing a whole new level of media-centric creativity.

Define your job in one word:


What's your poison:

Espresso martinis

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