‘There is always a better way’: Phil Ely on launching the next chapter of his career

Phil Ely Communications - Phil Ely

“I want to be able to reflect on a list of multiple agencies that I have meaningfully helped to grow and get better.”

Phil Ely, former head of communication planning for Mediahub, told Mediaweek he would be “an ally to agencies, not a competitor” following the recent launch of his consultancy, Phil Ely Communications, after his role with the IPG Mediabrands agency was made redundant in March.

Ely, whose career has seen him work with Profero, Mediahub, 303 MullenLowe under the IPG Mediabrands umbrella, shared the news of his consultancy launch in a recent LinkedIn post.

He wrote: “A couple of months ago, I was made redundant by the place I’d worked for nearly 20 years… I did take plenty of breaks to talk to people about roles, scan through jobs on LinkedIn and apply for openings.

“After hearing some form of ‘you’re perfect for the role if you were in Sydney, but we don’t do remote’ more times than I choose to remember, there was a moment when I thought maybe I’m not going be able to do this anymore.”

“I love what I do, I think I’m pretty good at it, and people have been asking me for years why I haven’t started my own thing yet – I’ll just do it myself!”

“It just felt like we were going backwards”

He told Mediaweek that he and his wife had decided to leave Sydney in January 2023 because of the “out of control” rising cost of living.

“We couldn’t afford a home for our family and were stuck renting. No matter how hard we worked, it just felt like we were going backwards.”

The move allowed him and his family to buy a property close to Coffs Harbour, which he said was “easily the best decision we’ve ever made.”

Ely agreed to a remote working arrangement with Mediahub and said it worked out “incredibly well” and had support from clients. He acknowledged that while there were times it would have been better for him to be in the room rather than on screen, “everyone embraced the change.”

“I don’t believe my relationships with clients changed at all, and if anything, my relationship with my team got stronger,” he added.

Ely said: “Ultimately, despite all this, the focus of the business shifted, and my role was made redundant because I was not in Sydney.”

“I thought 20 years of loyalty, commitment and hard work would protect me – it didn’t”

Across the industry, and particularly in recent weeks, many people’s roles have been made redundant.

Ely said allowing time to process and take stock was important for those in such a position.

“I genuinely went through the five stages of grief. You’ll make better decisions about what to do next and present yourself in a better light to prospective employers once you’ve dealt with those emotions.”

He added that it was important to “talk to as many people as you can” to share feelings and hear other people’s perspectives. 

“I’ll be eternally grateful to the many people that took the time to talk to me in the immediate aftermath – they let me vent, assured me I was better off, gave me clearer perspective and a lot of sage advice.”

Ely also highlighted the importance of building the foundations for a backup plan to keep the anxiety at bay, whether building one’s LinkedIn network or developing business ideas and finding inspiration in podcasts.

“It can’t hurt to do a little prep just in case. This is definitely a mistake I made. I knew moving away was a huge risk, but I guess I thought 20 years of loyalty, commitment and hard work would protect me – it didn’t.”

“I’ll bring the passion, inquisitiveness and determination to find it”

In addition to being an “ally to agencies,” Ely said he hopes his consultancy can provide extra firepower for a pitch, fix rocky client relationships, mentor talent or “a safe pair of hands” to agencies that need help solving bigger business challenges.

Meanwhile, Ely hopes to help marketers build and maintain positive long-term relationships with their agencies, better understand their return on advertising investment, and avoid pitches as much as possible.

“We should learn from the past, but in a world changing so fast, the solution for the next problem has to be different to the last. There is always a better way and I’ll bring the passion, inquisitiveness and determination to find it.”

Moving into communications consulting was not a stretch for Ely, who spent most of his career working with creatives, developers, UX strategists, technology problem solvers, and social and PR experts.

“This led to fundamentally disagreeing with the idea that creative strategy and media strategy should be two separate things developed independently – maybe with some FYI sessions to make everyone feel collaborative.”

Ely said that communications strategy is a bridge between creative and media, taking a holistic view of all the elements in an advertising ecosystem.

He said his consultancy will focus on how people behave, consume media, think about brands, and make purchase decisions.

“The hope is that this business will enable me to do that with as many different people for as many interesting brands as I can fit into every week. Alongside helping agencies run more successful businesses and work better with their clients,” he added.

Ely on the outlook ahead

For Ely, the reality of the immediate future ahead is about growing the business “to a point where I know I can pay the mortgage every month as quickly as possible.”

Further ahead, he hopes to help agencies and marketers: “I want to be able to reflect on a list of multiple agencies that I have meaningfully helped to grow and get better.”

“I want to have helped at least one client who could not avoid going to pitch to do it in a different way. How we pitch now doesn’t work for anyone, except maybe the consultants.

“I’m pretty confident I’ve come up with a way that will make it much less work for agencies, less time-consuming for clients and still increase the likelihood the best agency will win,” he said.

“I hope to find a couple of clients who’ll let me show them a better way and hopefully start to change things for the better across the industry. That’s a pretty lofty one isn’t it,” he added.

Ely added that his other goal is to help someone else in the media leave the city, buy a home, and make a better life for their family while still being able to work in the industry.

Top image: Phil Ely

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