Take me to your brand leader

Historically, corporate marketing chiefs haven’t always made successful agency leaders. But reports of Grey and Saatchi & Saatchi vying to appoint Sony Europe’s David Patton, could lead to more marketers making the switch. David Benady assesses their chances of success

It is not often that marketers from brand-owning companies are lured across the great communications divide to become the bosses of advertising agencies. So last week’s news that Grey and Saatchi & Saatchi were battling to hire Sony Europe marketing chief David Patton to run their UK businesses (marketingweek.co.uk) could be an inspiration for other marketers. (He’s going to Grey.)

Both agencies are lumbering multinational giants with vacancies for chief executives. It is understood they are finding it hard to attract top advertising leaders, many of whom prefer the cut and thrust of smaller, creative hotshops.

Saatchi is seeking a replacement for chief executive Lee Daley, who has left to become commercial director of Manchester United, while Grey was looking to replace Tamara Ingram, who has been shifted to head the agency’s worldwide Procter & Gamble business.

Observers believe Patton is wise to have taken up one of these posts. One source says: “If you are a marketer who is approached and offered a role running an agency, do it. What is the worst that can happen? You are sacked after two years and get a huge pay-off. Too many marketers sit there and get institutionalised in their businesses for years and don’t take up the opportunities.”

Risky Business
But while the chance of heading an ad agency may be a golden opportunity for marketers, advertising sources say it is risky for agencies to hire people who lack first-hand experience.

Patton is understood to have no agency work under his belt, and while he is credited with commissioning some of the most acclaimed advertising of the past decade, this is considered far from a sufficient qualification.

He joined Sony in the mid-1990s following a stint at Nintendo and has worked at the Japanese electronics company ever since. His work with Fallon to create the Sony “Balls” ad and with TBWA/London on Sony PlayStation, shows he has an eye for strong creative work, but sceptics believe that this does not automatically translate into a natural flair for running an ad agency.

Some say there are few instances of marketers making the jump to run agencies. “That’s because it’s a terrible idea,” claims one source who believes that marketers with experience in big corporations are poorly suited to running ad agencies. “They are just not used to the idea of service,” adds the source. “They are accustomed to telling people what to do, but as an agency boss you have to take a drubbing from clients. Ex-clients don’t have that experience in humility.”

Another observer argues that the raucous whirl of agency life is a far cry from the militaristic command-and-control structure of a global corporation, where relationships are polite, disciplined and politically correct.

“You were trained to drive a huge juggernaut, but now you’re on a racing track in a car with no steering wheel,” says one agency source of such switches. “When you are the marketing director of a big company, people take your calls. When you’re in an agency, marketers might not even call you back. It’s a culture shock because marketers forget their power isn’t to do with them personally, it is in the brand they are sitting on.”

Alongside Patton’s move, it emerged last week that media buying and planning giant Omnicom has poached Philippa Brown from IPC Media to oversee UK operations as head of its new Omnicom Media Group UK division. Brown cut her teeth in creative agency media departments at BBH and DMB&B. She may have been away from the media agency world for ten years, but it will not be a completely alien atmosphere for her when she takes up the role in July.

Solid background
In truth, there is a considerable crossover of staff between agencies and marketing departments, though usually at middle-management levels. For a client to get the top job at an agency requires a solid background in the agency world.

Just last week, Coca-Cola parted company with creative officer Esther Lee, who left to join Euro RSCG to run its North American business. Lee originally came from the agency world, and has even set up and run her own shop, New York start-up DiNoto Lee. As Euro RSCG boss David Jones said: “She’s got the perfect mix of client-side and agency experience.”

Marketers who have not worked their way up through the agency system may find it tough to switch to running an agency. In 2003, Kraft executive Ann Fudge was hired by Sir Martin Sorrell to run marketing services network Young & Rubicam. But her three-year tenure as chief executive and chairman of Y&R Brands was not considered a huge success. She failed to revive Y&R North America and last July she handed over control of Y&R Advertising to Australian boss Hamish McLennan.

Some said her inexperience of the agency world meant she did not understand the importance of keeping in regular touch with the heads of subsidiaries around the globe. Agency bosses are expected to lend a helping hand with any problems or challenges that arise. It was also said she failed to make in-roads with clients.

Other notable defections from brand owner to agency include Anthony Simonds-Gooding, the former Whitbread boss who took up a senior position at Saatchi in the 1980s. About the same time, Birds Eye chief Keith Jacobs went to join Lowe Howard-Spink. In more recent times, Cordiant hired ex-client David Hearn as chief executive of its Bates network. None of these moves was considered to be particularly successful.

By contrast, Saatchi & Saatchi’s worldwide chief executive Kevin Roberts joined from Australian brewer Lion Nathan ten years ago following a career in marketing. While the network has hardly shone, Roberts is credited with doing a “reasonable” job of holding it together. Meanwhile, Saatchi chief executive for worldwide regions Jim O’Mahony, another ex-Lion Nathan executive, will help select the next boss of London. Perhaps it is no surprise that these clients-turned-ad-men are trying to lure another marketer to the agency world.

If Patton succeeds Grey, it could pave the way for other clients to consider making the leap to the agency world.

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