“Larger than life and twice as colourful” is one of the more polite things said about Kevin Morley in the past three years. Since he first bludgeoned his way into the advertising agency world with Kevin Morley Marketing he has become a unique hate- figure that has united the ad agency industry.
Once the managing director at Rover Cars, Morley threatened to revolutionise the ad agency world with his talk of integrated marketing. And initial impact on the 20 agencies which had links with Rover across Europe was indeed truly revolutionary – they all lost the business.
The client turned ad man, picked up an unprecedented five-year contract from his former employer worth an annual 100m in billings and remained on the board of what was now his client until January 1994, raising questions about conflict of interest. To make himself even more unpopular with the ad fraternity Morley then set about accusing agencies of being “expensive and dilettante” and implicitly accused them of conning clients.
His gruff, blunt, intimidating style made him few friends.
But then Morley is not in the business of making friends. He made his comments while addressing the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising in 1993 – which two months earlier had barred the agency from membership.
But the thud with which he hit the agency world dulled. In recent months, Morley has laid low as speculation over the future of the 100m pan-European Rover account, the growth of his own outside interests and stories linking KMM with sales to other agencies have all been raised by journalists only to be met with Morley’s trademark threat of legal action.
His PR man Peter Cunard denies that Morley has been ground down by the incessant criticism of the past three years.
“He is not worn down by it but he does recognise that he has taken a lot of stick,” says Cunard. “He is at a stage in his life when he feels the timing is right to move on. He wants to do something new.”
Morley is building his new empire with ex-KMM finance director Steven Smith,the other major beneficiary in the Lintas deal. In January the two co-founded and became directors of a firm called Bond Street Investment which will become the holding company for the new ventures. But the diversity of the ventures suggests opportunism rather than strategic vision has been the guiding principle. Their interests include:
– Mark Telecommunications: A Kent-based telecoms firm which gained its licence in March. The firm will specialise in international long-distance resale and provide value-added services for the UK and other countries. Smith and Morley, who will advise on the company’s marketing, are both minority shareholders. It will be interesting to see who does the advertising.
– Treasure Beach Hotel: A 24-room property located on the west coast of Barbados overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Morley is a joint owner with business man John Moreton. A one-week stay in early August in the hotel’s Garden View suite will set you back 2,375. Morley and Smith are looking for further properties to invest in.
– 1466: A firm which acts as an importer for the Czech lager Lobkov (MW May 5). Smith is a director and Morley has an interest in the company. The business is expected to be expanded into other alcoholic and soft drinks.
– Cardboard Innovations: Point-of-sale company.
– KM Betley & Whitehorne, the Jersey and Guernsey agency where Smith and Morley remain as co-owners.
Since the day Kevin Morley Marketing was created its mentor has been centre stage. Now he has left the business it may be a less colourful industry.