Speculation that Amanda Walsh was the favourite to fill the chief executive’s seat at troubled Lowe London has been rife since her departure from United earlier this year (MW May 25). Although both sides denied they were in talks, her arrival at the Interpublic Group-owned (IPG) shop was widely expected.
A founder of Walsh Trott Chick Smith, Walsh is seen as creatively-led with a sensitive, cajoling management style – which, observers say, is the opposite of her predecessor, Garry Lace.
It is an approach that is expected to succeed when Walsh joins next month. Despite its troubles with major account losses, including Tesco, group-level financial difficulties and management issues, Lowe is seen as having one of the best creative reels in town. This creative focus is highlighted by the importance of executive creative director Ed Morris, who is rumoured to have secured a &£450,000 “golden handcuffs” deal.
The Haystack Group managing director Suki Thompson says Walsh will not be “another steamroller” looking to restructure the agency. But she points out that Lowe Worldwide chief executive Steve Gatfield has already steadied the ship considerably.
Walsh agrees that Gatfield has soothed existing clients and repaired the damage done by Lace’s high-profile departure in May. He left after an investigation into allegations he held talks with Sir Frank Lowe about launching an agency to poach Lowe London’s flagship Tesco account.
She denies the Lace debacle has harmed the agency as a brand, explaining: “Lowe does need significant improvement, but it has good spirit and people who have been there a long time. This is a new era.”
Walsh was convinced into taking the job after meeting Gatfield, and IPG chairman and chief executive Michael Roth, who stated the “clear positioning of the agency”. She says: “Lowe is a creative jewel and there is a lot of goodwill towards it.” Her strategy will be to invest in people who produce “great work”. She adds: “Ed will ensure that the work is brilliant, and new business will follow.”
A question of leadership
But some people are not convinced about Walsh’s business skills. One insider claims to be “astonished” by her appointment, saying: “She is incredibly good humoured and well connected but has no leadership skills at all.”
The source points out Walsh was responsible for winning international business at United as European chief executive, but she did not win one international pitch, adding: “She is not business minded and that is what you need in a chief executive.”
AAR managing director Kerry Glazer says the United role did not match Walsh’s experience of working in overtly creative agencies. Glazer adds: “Her job is really to continue the effervescence that has already started at Lowe. She has to respect what has already been achieved.”
Lowe has clearly picked itself up from its lowest ebb earlier this year, underscored by its recent snatching of the &£9m John Lewis creative account. Observers agree that managing director Chris Hunton, marketing director Judy Mitchem and chief strategy officer Rebecca Morgan have worked hard to get it back on an even keel. The agency will be hoping Walsh’s arrival will steady the ship further.