Draft FCB president Nigel Jones has got a new train set, though some might say a slightly damaged one. But Jones believes he has got what he always wanted in the role of UK group chairman and chief executive of Publicis, an agency network that has recently been limping along.
“Publicis is a huge opportunity, and people sometimes forget how big and strong it is in the UK. And yes, I am going in with my eyes wide open, and my job will be to get each of its constituents in rude health,” he says of his new job, which he is not likely to start until September.
It is not the appointment of Jones to Publicis, but the fact that someone, or anyone, is joining the agency right now that has raised eyebrows. The London agency’s litany of well-documented woes, including the £80m worth of account losses at the start of last year, culminated in consultation with its staff last month with a view to making redundancies. And its contract publishing business Blueprint has been floundering as a result of its over-dependence on the ad-funded model.
Some question how Jones, not known as a flamboyant showman, but “only” as an extremely clever planner, will be able to resuscitate Publicis. He has got a London chief executive, Neil Simpson, who joined last year with no previous experience of running agencies, and a chief operating officer, Richard Pinder, who is busy running regional networks and almost absent from the London scene.
One source says: “The trouble with all three of them is that they are all clever people, but with the same deficiency – not people that you can like instinctively.”
Jones hits out at the “clever” tag. “It is a rather annoying label. I can do being clever standing on my head. This is not an industry that needs particularly clever people and that is why I left BMP. You cannot become chief executive of an agency by just being clever, ” says Jones.
After starting his career at BMP DDB (now DDB London), Jones became the agency’s head of account planning in 1991. He left to launch the direct marketing agency Jones Mason Barton Antenen in 1999, becoming Claydon Heeley’s chief executive after the agency merged with Jones Mason in 2001. In 2005, he left to join FCB London, which two years ago merged with Draft.
A one-time junior chess prodigy, a maths graduate from Oxford university and a BMP DDB graduate trainee, he rose to be head of planning, in an agency that made its name through planning skills. It is easy to understand why friends and admirers, including Agency Insight’s Andrew Melsom, who worked with him at BMP, DDB European development director Richard Morris, AAR’s Martin Jones and DraftFCB’s new president Enda McCarthy all refer to him as “frighteningly clever”.
“I enjoy the theatrical side of the advertising business and being clever is only half my story,” continues Jones. Melsom, who insists that it is his overwhelming powers of logic that define Jones, says: “He does not have a great degree of showmanship, but because of his pithiness and intelligence, he has the power to draw people in.”
McCarthy, who has now replaced Jones at DraftFCB adds: “His departure coincides with his work being almost done, with the merger of the two agencies completed. And what Publicis has bought with his appointment is wisdom and experience along with a commercial mastermind.”
AAR’s Jones says that he will also bring a “unique perspective” to Publicis, with his direct marketing and advertising background.
Jones says the idea of a “big job” is what excites him. “Publicis already has a great team in place, great brands and has everything from advertising to digital and direct to offer clients. Whatever its problems, they are all fixable.”