Mark T. Phillips’ first day as director of business development at JWT Canada was a long one that went by, as he puts it, at “mach 3.” It started early at Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto, and ended at three in the morning at a Marriott hotel in Montreal, with Phillips deciding the agency’s Air Canada pitch was ready to present later that morning.
Phillips was dropped into the role of taskmaster for a room full of creatives pitching what would become a pivotal piece of business for the agency. It was a daunting, exhilarating day and one that would ultimately prove successful: JWT won the account and Air Canada is now one of the agency’s pillar clients.
For someone expected to grow the agency, the win was a remarkable start to the job, but there’s now plenty more on Phillips’ plate. JWT Canada president and CEO, Susan Kim-Kirkland, brought him on with the expressed goal of transforming JWT from a mass agency steeped in tradition to a forward-thinking shop with an entrepreneurial spirit.
Today, he’s the right hand to Kim-Kirkland, who first spotted him as a young, ambitious account executive during his first stint at the agency. Fresh out of school, Phillips landed his first job at JWT, working on clients like Kellogg and Walmart, which he grew from a brand-new piece of business and a team of four to a sizeable account and team of 14. More remarkable, he did this when he was just 25.
Even then, says Kim-Kirkland, Phillips had a “high-potential vibe” and stood out at meetings. “I have always been on the lookout for high-potential young talent, and he was clearly delivering on his billing,” she says.
After three years at JWT, Phillips moved on to Cossette, where he worked on Procter and Gamble. There, he helped grow the business in a big way, from a $400,000 account when he started in 2010, to nearly $2 million when he left the agency and returned to JWT in 2013.
Kim-Kirkland says Phillips has “instincts you can’t teach,” which is partly why she selected him for the important role of change-maker within JWT. Most important of all, she says, is his work ethic. “Mark works hard. Really hard. And is always hungry to learn as much as he can, taking nothing for granted.”
“Mark’s role is completely focused on our transformation plan, and he brings this to life with a level of intensity that declares, ‘we’re serious.’”
Phillips’ own goal for the agency as it seeks to change its operations and its image? He wants JWT to become a destination for young creatives and a shop that’s known for innovation rather than traditional values. He wants the ad industry to say, “They didn’t see us coming.”