Harry Herber – director and former group CEO of The MediaShop – is the 2014 Media Agency Legend of the Year. Peta Krost Maunder profiles the legendary agency operator.
There are few people in media agencies as loved as Harry Herber. He may curse with the best of them and tell it like it is to the point of potentially angering folk, but I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t respect him and have a soft spot for him.
The only likely question around Herber winning this year’s Media Agency Legend Award is, “What took you so long?”
“Since Harry joined The MediaShop in 1997, he not only changed the way media planning and strategy is done, but also the actual business of media,” says Chris Botha, group CEO of The MediaShop. “He has a brilliant business mind and can tell you whether an idea would work or not within two minutes of hearing it. He has an intuitive feel for money and he understands the finest intricacies of turnover, revenue, expense and profit.”
Herber was group CEO of The MediaShop until the end of 2010 when he handed over to Botha. Now, as director, he does what he loves best, ensuring the company gets and does great business. He is passionate about the industry and consumes whatever media he can get his hands on, whether it is local or international.
His belief in ‘going the extra mile’ and making things happen is evident in his never missing a deadline for his monthly column in The Media since the magazine launched (except during his annual trips to the US).
“Harry gives back to the industry in his own special way,” says Botha. “He is a mentor to many people. He always has time for someone to bring a challenge to him. He answers the unanswerable questions, and solves the unsolvable challenges.
“Harry has an alternative way of looking at things. When the world zigs, he has a way of zagging that makes everyone else stand and stare in amazement. He teaches all around him that ordinary is not acceptable. Only the extraordinary will excel.”
Herber has a BA in Classics and Anthropology, which hardly seems the background for a media stalwart. But in 1975 he launched his career at BBDO. His career-defining move was to the Grey Group in 1980, where he climbed to deputy managing director.
“They were streets ahead of the rest,” he says. “Only the best survived – anyone vaguely okay was fired, pronto. You got a long service award after 12 months. I lasted 14 years.”
He was then recruited by FCB South Africa and, after the company bought The MediaShop, Herber was put in charge in 1997. And the rest is a success story.
Herber insists that he was drawn to this industry out of “ignorance”.
“I don’t think I really had a clue about the advertising industry,” he says.
He claims that in his first year in the industry, he “acted bewildered, had lunch, and drank a lot. It seemed to be what everyone else was doing”.
And his way of surviving in media is to “stay humble and roll with the punches”.
“This industry is incredibly unforgiving, and an emotional rollercoaster, so you get a kick and a kiss every day.”
But under his stewardship, and more recently Botha’s, The MediaShop has won numerous awards for their achievements, as has Herber for his contribution.
“You know winning sure beats losing hands down,” he says. “We – all 150 of us – work bloody hard. It’s nice to get payback.
“The trick is staying on top. And when I look at The MediaShop today with my successor, Chris Botha at the helm, things have changed dramatically for the good over the past few years. But our ethos, commitment, and raging passion to deliver an ultimate product to the market has never waivered. I think that’s what makes a person proud.”
Botha, however, attributes a great deal of The MediaShop’s success to Herber. “He built The MediaShop’s philosophy of partnerships. He treats every client like a valued partner and treats his or her business as his own. Media owners are his mates, and the people he loves having around him. If you are the CEO of a major organisation or the receptionist of a small company, Harry will always greet you with a friendly ‘Hello boet/darling’ that makes your heart melt.”
In his inimitable honest way, Herber says the media needs “fundamentally to start understanding the revolution that is happening around it. There’s a new consumer reality, and a new communications reality. Be brave enough to sell it”.
And to those entering this industry, he says, “Learn about communications, not media. Think big. Sweat and bleed. Have passion. Commit.”
Looking back, Herber says he tried to balance work and family by “always divorcing ‘my time’ from ‘company time’”, but not always successfully.
“Plus there’s Jewish guilt I suppose: you always think you could have given your family a bit more of yourself. But, hell, in a blink of an eye, it’s 30 years later.”
And while he is not afraid of much, he says, “the stupid and lazy irritate me beyond belief”.
Over the years, he has learnt two things the hard way, “not to smart-mouth clients and that my wife is always right”.
And he has no regrets, saying, “Look forward, not over your shoulder.”
This story was first published in the September 2014 issue of The Media magazine.
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