Will DDB continue Hammersley’s legacy of change?

As soon as Sir Frank Lowe announced he was launching a new agency, there was little doubt that DDB London chief executive, and former Lowe New York boss, Paul Hammersley would be first choice to lead it. His resignation from DDB came as no surprise – but questions remain over his legacy at the agency.

Hammersley joined DDB London in March 2004 with a brief to revitalise it. His appointment ended a year-long search for a senior industry figure to breathe new life into an agency that had been led by joint chief executives Chris Cowpe and Ross Barr. The pair signed up to the agency as graduates, stayed for 30 years and were seen as the “last of the old guard” after former BMP DDB chairman Chris Powell stepped down in 2003. The appointment of an external candidate was an unprecedented move for DDB, and one that needed to produce results.

After such a short stint, it is unclear how Hammersley’s time will be judged, particularly if he takes with him chief strategic officer David Hackworthy, who Hammersley brought in to revive DDB’s planning heritage.

Industry observers don’t doubt Hammersley’s ability, describing him as a “class act” and “highly respected”. Publicis chief executive Grant Duncan says Hammersley represents a new breed of agency management, adding: “He has strong creative credentials but overlays that with a very businesslike approach. He has a good balance.”

Hammersley appears to have succeeded in encouraging clients and other agencies to reappraise DDB. New business wins have included Weetabix, More4 and the Egyptian Tourist Board, and the agency was on the shortlist for Sainsbury’s and British Airways.

But there is some doubt about how successful internal changes have been. A source close to DDB admits: “The agency has had a great year for new business and Hammersley is clearly rated by senior management and clients. But I am not convinced the rest of the agency is so sure. I think the junior staff feel rudderless at times.”

Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R chief executive James Murphy believes Hammersley has “jolted the agency back into life” and his changes remain a work in progress. He says the rebranding of the agency from BMP DDB to DDB London in early 2004 worked well externally, but adds: “Whether it has worked internally isn’t clear and I think that is a key issue.”

Resistance to Hammersley and the changes he has made is apparent. But Duncan points out there were many senior people at DDB who were “gagging” for someone new to come in with the determination to make a significant change. He says: “There are positives in continuity, especially in an industry with so much churn, but BMP DDB took it to the extreme. It is inevitable that if you go into a place like that to change things you will meet resistance.”

It is the very issue of change that may have been a factor in Hammersley’s decision to go. One source claims both he and Hackworthy had been planning “dramatic changes” and suggests this would have been discussed at length at the meeting the pair had with DDB Worldwide management in the US last week. The source explains: “They will have been using the changes they were planning as a bargaining tool.”

Whatever DDB offered Hammersley to stay, it clearly was not enough. DDB Europe president Michael Bray will oversee the vacant role in the short term, but the search for a strong enough candidate to awaken the sleeping giant and restore it to its former glory must begin all over again.

Caroline Parry

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