Tributes flow in for advertising legend Harold Mitchell

The Australian advertising industry is mourning the passing of the figure widely regarded as the father of media buying in Australia, Harold Mitchell.

News of the 81 year old’s death broke on Sunday afternoon, with Mitchell’s family confirming he had passed as a result of complications post knee-replacement surgery.

A veteran of the advertising industry, Mitchell is best known for founding Melbourne media buying firm Mitchell & Partners in advertising’s golden era in the 1970s.

He ran the agency up until its 2010 sales to British advertising group Aegis, which was later bought out by Japanese holding company Dentsu in 2012. In 2015 the agency was rebranded to Dentsu Mitchells, later totally dropping the Mitchells name, to create Dentsu X.

Mitchell also spent time as the executive chairman of Aegis Media Asia Pacific, was formerly the chairman of Free TV Australia, and made philanthropic contributions through his charity, the Harold Mitchell Foundation.

The impact of his charitable work saw him was Companion of the Order of Australia for eminent service to the community through leadership and philanthropic endeavours in the fields of art, health and education, and as a supporter of humanitarian aid in Timor-Leste and the indigenous community.

Mitchell’s near 50 year adland legacy has continued to live on since his retirement, having touched the career’s of the many of the agency biggest names.

CEO of the Media Federation of Australia, Sophie Madden

“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.

“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.”

CEO of media at dentsu, Danny Bass

“Arriving in Australia in the late ‘90s, it was clear 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. 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.”

Chairman and founder of Atomic 212, Barry O’Brien

“This is an incredibly sad day with the loss of Harold Mitchell. My sincere condolences to his family.

“Harold was a powerhouse of the media industry and the platform for many people to start their own agencies. 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.”

Chief sales officer at Nine, Michael Stephenson 

“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.”

Seven West Media chairman, Kerry Stokes

“Harold 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. 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.”

Seven West Media managing director and chief executive officer, James Warburton

“Harold was a fierce, tough competitor and a true legend of the Australian media and advertising industry. He loved media. 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.”

Free TV CEO, Bridget Fair

“Harold’s contributions to the industry cannot be overstated. During his time as Chairman of Free TV he was pivotal in some of the most significant developments in the commercial television sector and delivered superb leadership and advice. He left a lasting and important legacy at Free TV, having significantly changed the industry for the better and contributing to the sustainability and growth of free-to-air television in his time as Chairman. Harold’s strategic insights and steadfast commitment to the industry’s best interests contributed significantly to its resilience and relevance in an evolving digital era.

“Speaking personally, I am devastated at Harold’s loss. He was an outstanding Chairman for Free TV as well as being a personal friend and mentor. It was a great privilege to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from a respected business leader of his calibre with such a deep understanding of commercial television and the wider industry landscape. He was generous with his knowledge, his energy and his time in furthering the interests of Free TV broadcasters.

“He never lost his passion for the industry and remained in touch on every key issue even
after stepping down as Chairman right up until recent weeks.”

“Harold was one of a kind, this is truly the end of an era. He will be sorely missed by Free TV and the commercial television industry. We thank him for his outstanding service and friendship. Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with his family and friends.”

Others took to LinkedIn to share their Harold Mitchell stories, reflecting the broad influence the industry veteran had over a new generation of advertising leaders.

“Vale Harold Mitchell,” wrote managing partner of Hatched Media, Adrian Roeling.

“A true pioneer in our industry. Someone who laid the foundations for many of us today.
“A savvy and shrewd businessman, who was also so generous in giving back to our collective culture and to people less fortunate in our society.
“Personally I have much to thank Harold for. I will always be immensely grateful for the opportunity and support.
“RIP Harold, and thank you.”

CEO of WPP’s GroupM Australia, Aimee Buchanan:

“RIP Harold. Harold shaped the Australian media landscape enormously & had a pretty monumental impact on my career. My first twelve years in the industry were spent working at Mitchell’s/ MPG. Four weeks into my first job in 2000, Harold gave all of his staff 4 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.”

Thinkerbell founder, Adam Ferrier:

“Harold was a media boss, and one of the few to understand Naked and their value.

“He bought us in to jointly pitch for I think Nissan in 2006. It was a joint pitch and on the morning of the pitch Harold had got word that I intended to wear a tshirt and jeans.

“To rectify the situation he had someone in his team get / buy / commandeer a suit for me to wear….. which obviously I wasn’t going to do.

“It all came to a head and he called me into his office and had me sit down opposite to him, his legs spread as we sat very close to each other.

“Harold then said to me “what’s this I hear about you refusing to wear a suit?” To which I replied jokingly “I’ll wear the suit, if you wear a t-shirt.” As quick as a flash he lent forwards and put his finger in my face and said “Don’t fuck with me Ferrier.”

“The Michell’s team wore suits, the Naked team didn’t, and we lost the pitch.

“He was a super smart guy, ruthless as hell, and those who work with him describe him as loyal and generous. To me he was a larger than life character who made our industry colourful. We had great fun working with Harold and his team at Mitchell’s for a few years. RIP Harold.”

IMAA CEO, Sam Buchanan:

“Today, we mourn the loss of Harold Mitchell. Truly, a true icon in the advertising and media industry. Harold was one of a kind, and his legacy will continue to inspire generations to come. He left an indelible mark on the industry that will never be forgotten. Rest in peace.”

CEO of Zenith Media Australia, Jason Tonelli:

“Today, we say goodbye to a true pioneer of our industry. Harold, a fierce competitor and someone who had a deep love for our field, will be dearly missed. His contributions to the industry will never be forgotten.

“I had the privilege of working with Harold, and I am grateful for the many great memories and learnings from our time together (and I still love to wear a tie Harold!)

“My thoughts are with the Mitchell family during this difficult time.”


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