JWT London’s appointment of former Bates and Young & Rubicam chief executive Toby Hoare as executive chairman of its UK operations (MW last week) follows the agency’s attempts to reposition itself as a creative powerhouse, which has been met by a series of setbacks.
Hoare was handed the post following the resignation a fortnight ago of chief executive Simon Bolton, who has stood down. Hoare is seen as a “safe pair of hands” who will bring stability to the agency after a difficult few months in which it lost the Omo account, saw its stewardship of Samsung handed to rival Leo Burnett, and parted company with Axa’s UK business. He will also have to patch up the relationship with ruggedly individualistic creative director Nick Bell, which under Bolton had become distinctively ragged.
Hoare’s reputed abilities in handling senior clients will be key, particularly with Unilever, which has dropped the agency from Omo/Persil and is reviewing Knorr. The task of managing clients will be vital because JWT head of multinational accounts David Lamb is also leaving to become marketing director for the Diamond Trading Company.
One of Hoare’s most pressing tasks will be to manage relationships with Bell, who is seen as a talented but uncompromising creative director. Hoare says he is considering whether to appoint a chief executive to run the agency on a daily basis. Managing director Mark Cadman, who joined earlier this year from Lowe London, seems a strong contender.
For the past two years, Hoare has been chief executive of JWT parent WPP’s Team HSBC, running worldwide advertising. He says his latest appointment “came out of the blue”, but adds: “My main task is to figure out how we can make the management team work. We need a small but progressive management team working together.” He says that despite a few problems, there is no crisis at JWT.
Some observers are surprised that an organisation seeking to portray itself as a go-ahead creative boutique has turned to Hoare for leadership. In their view, the 45-year-old is an “old-school” advertising executive, redolent of JWT’s gentlemanly heritage, rather than one to spearhead its rebirth. But Hoare says: “I don’t think Bob Jeffrey [JWT worldwide chief executive and chairman] would have asked me to do the job if he thought I would be taking the agency in any other direction. I will focus on the team and the need to continue to improve creative work.”
Jeffrey has also promoted European creative boss Craig Davis – who has written a book on the future of brands called “Hold my skateboard while I kiss your girlfriend” – to worldwide creative chief.
But the revolution, hailed by Jeffrey and Davis at the beginning of the year and signalled by the name change from J Walter Thompson, has faced a number of obstacles, such as the high-profile account losses and the failure to win the Sainsbury’s and BA pitches. One observer says: “There are a lot of clients who aren’t being taken along the journey of the creative revolution, and don’t find Bob and Craig credible.”
Hoare says it is crucial to reposition JWT on a creative platform, though it will be important for the agency to retain its reputation for client management and strategic planning: “We have got to change and adapt. Certain elements of JWT’s past make it unique; to pretend they don’t exist would be wrong. It is difficult for one agency to be different from another, but we have a difference.”