RKCR/Y&R clings to low-profile growth

If there is one agency in London that does not believe in big dramas, it is Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R. It has been two years since three of the four founders left – only Mark Roalfe remains as chairman – but the agency has continued to be a steady ship under James Murphy’s captaincy.

Even last week’s appointment of Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s Richard Exon as managing director – as exclusively revealed on marketingweek.co.uk – was made without much fuss. RKCR/Y&R has been without an md since Murphy was promoted to chief executive in November 2004 but there had been no industry speculation or high-profile names linked to the job.

After 13 years at BBH, most recently as group business development director, Exon will join RKCR/Y&R within weeks and report to Murphy.

However, critics are questioning the wisdom of appointing a managing director when the agency already has a “top heavy” management team that includes the likes of Roalfe, chief operating Tony Harris and vice-chairman Alison Hoad, alongside a host of “talented young turks”.

The industry has also expressed surprise that it was Exon, rather than a more high-profile experienced suit, who was hired to work alongside Murphy and Harris.

But Harris describes Exon as a “young man with a bright future”. He says that the day-to-day management was being split between him and Murphy but that with the growing scale of the agency it needed “more firepower”.

Harris adds that the agency has “interesting developments” planned for the near future and needs to bolster its management team to take on the new projects. “The best time to make any changes to an organisation is when it is on a winning streak,” says Harris.

The agency’s stellar new business record has not gone unnoticed, with wins such as the BBC, Bacardi, BT’s business-to-business account, Hilton Hotels and Hertz totalling more than £75m. It has also performed well creatively, winning several effectiveness awards for one its longest-serving clients, Marks & Spencer.

Spread the load
The Haystack Group’s Suki Thompson says that even though the agency has been winning new business and holding on to all of its major clients, it still needs to “spread the load” and bring in new talent. Another industry observer adds that the new managing director will free the existing management to focus on developing the agency while helping it “to run the trains on time”.

Murphy, meanwhile, has been busy building a mini-empire by launching Swarm, an integrated agency within the main agency. RKCR/Y&R has already moved the BT account into Swarm and the new agency is expected to pitch for potential conflict clients.

There are also plans to launch a digital agency, which will report to Murphy. Observers note that Exon may have very little room to manoeuvre at an agency where the chief executive likes to be in full control of the day-to-day running. “Exon will either go in there and disappear or RKCR/Y&R will be the making of him,” says one advertising executive.

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