Duff leads Universal McCann into testing times

Graham Duff, the president of Universal McCann (UM) for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, took on a big challenge when he joined the already troubled network at the start of last year.

It has been another difficult year for UM but parent company Interpublic Group is clearly pleased with Duff’s progress, having just expanded his remit to cover sister network Initiative’s operations in Western Europe, the Middle East and Africa (MW last week).

Duff’s new role is part of a move by IPG to bring the networks closer together – to share resources, knowledge and, ultimately, work the businesses harder. While IPG is keen to play down the changes – describing it as an internal shift towards better collaboration rather than a step closer to the much talked-about merger – there is little doubt that Duff and his colleagues in the rest of Europe and the US face testing times.

Duff has an enviable reputation in the UK with industry observers describing him as “grounded” and “capable of cutting through the bullshit”. Few are surprised that the “unassuming” Duff has taken the role across both networks instead of “showman” Jerry Hill, currently joint chief operating officer for Europe and UK chief executive of Initiative. Hill is understood to be taking a client-facing global role at the network, although the details have yet to be confirmed.

Two sides of the coin
One media agency source says: “Graham is the one talking in business language, whereas Jerry is more on the sales side. Graham is the one taking the clients out, not the guy doing the deals.” Those who know him say Duff was ambitious and driven about developing his career in TV buying from his first job as a traffic clerk at Anglia TV. He did stints in the media departments of agencies including Leo Burnett and Publicis before joining the first ITV sales house, TSMS, as a founding director. In 1993, he joined Zenith Media as head of TV and was promoted to joint managing director and later chief executive following the departure of Christine Walker to launch Walker Media.

Duff left the agency in 2001 to become chief executive of Granada Enterprises and just two years later was made managing director of ITV Sales, following the merger of Granada and Carlton (MW September 6, 2001). The tumultuous merger, which created a sales point with 52% share of the market and led to the introduction of the Contract Rights Renewal mechanism, is understood to have left Duff feeling frustrated and worn down. He left in 2005 to go to Wharton Business School.

Strategic, not political
Another media agency insider says that Duff’s experience on both the client and agency side means that he is strategically led and planning driven. However, a TV source says his time at ITV shows that he is “not a political animal” and could be “rather difficult”. The source adds: “His view was ‘back me, don’t question me’. If you are playing a team game that is not always the best way.” Others claim Duff is not comfortable being the “focal point”. A senior media industry figure says: “He has worked with some big names such as Christine Walker and will work very well with Nick Brien [worldwide chief executive of Universal McCann, who is also taking a wider IPG role] leading the charge.” There has been much talk about the collaborative path that IPG plans to follow – which also includes aligning media closer to its creative networks. The next few months will show what this will actually mean for clients.

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