So, Kevin Morley has sold out – as we recently predicted he would – and the Rover business is on its way to Lintas. He will be missed by, if no one else, industry commentators.
Say what you like about the Morley phenomenon, it has been extremely entertaining. From low farce, such as fisticuffs during the Iceland pitch, to high hokum. Certainly the transformation of Morley, one moment managing director of Rover Cars, the next chief executive of an agency handling 100m of Rover business, was a real coup de théÃÂ¢tre. How, we all asked ourselves, could a man retaining board-level status with the company he had just left, simultaneously act as its principal supplier of marketing services? It was a question never to receive a satisfactory answer – not at least of the sort likely to pass muster with Sir Adrian Cadbury.
But let’s not write KMM off as simply a cynical money-making exercise. There was a time when Morley seemed an agent of change in the business. He had an evangelical message which succeeded in exasperating nearly everyone in the ad agency establishment. It was something to do with integrated communications, and cutting out the excess from fat cats in the full-service world.
All of which, coming in the depths of recession, should have struck a harmonious chord with advertisers. It did not. KMM, constructed on a robustly-crafted five-year contract with Rover, never fulfilled its early promise by developing into a fully-fledged marketing services agency – the Jeyes and Sally Line wins notwithstanding. An overweaning cult of the personality may well have been the root cause. Latterly, however, there has been growing speculation that KMM would not outlive its five-year term, speculation fuelled by senior management changes at Rover and Morley’s own increasing preoccupation with “extramural” activities, such as his Treasure Beach hotel enterprise in Barbados.
For Lintas, which already handles a small amount of Rover business in Europe, KMM (aka 100m Rover billings) is a timely fillip in the UK. However, the suspicion lingers that this is a caretaking arrangement. Most probably Rover will review its options at the end of the original contractual term.
Little prescience is needed to see that a Morleyesque solution will not be one of those options.