Stefano Hatfield on Advertising

Brit leads the cavalry as Universal McCann looks for a revival
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The Independent Online

Brien had been based in Chicago, running Leo Burnett's Arc below-the-line network. He will move to New York to take up the vacancy created when fellow Brit Robin Kent was fired in March.

In so doing, the 43-year-old former Leo Burnett London chief executive not only drags his American wife Anastasia away from her Chicago roots, but he goes back to his business beginnings on the media agency side after 18 months as the CEO of the Arc group of marketing services companies. Those with longer memories will remember that Brien first came to prominence, aged 12-and-a-half, as one of the 'B's in the BBJ media buying start-up in 1989. From there he moved to be Leo Burnett's UK media director and then switched over successfully to mainstream agency management at a time when it was unusual to do so.

Come to think of it, it is still curiously unusual to switch either way (Dominic Proctor, the MindShare CEO, and Rick Bendel, the Publicis worldwide COO spring to mind). But Brien's unique CV, people-handling skills and ebullient can-do personality are a perfect combination for a Universal McCann that needs a shot of energy. Universal was the last of the so-called major media "dependants" not to establish total independence from the mothership, McCann-Erickson. It still hasn't, but thinking on this is beginning to turn around, so it may find itself like those people resolutely wearing high-waisted drainpipe jeans: so far behind the old curve as to suddenly find themselves ahead of the new trend.

Although the agency has slipped in the UK rankings, it is still - despite account losses like L'Oreal and Nestle in certain markets - an international powerhouse. Not so long ago it was everyone's Media Agency of the Year in the US, where being a powerhouse is of predominant importance.

Of late, it has lacked decisive leadership, which Brien will bring in spades. He will also inject his own inimitable brand of loquacious intensity and energy, being one of those smart Brits (like his best friend, The Media Kitchen's Paul Woolmington) who will always thrive in the US because of his zest for client schmoozing, big bright ideas, and eternal, unshakeable optimism.

THAT EXCELLENT publication The Week has a regular item headlined "Boring But Important" into which I might place the news this week that Vincent Bollore, the new chairman of Havas, the world's fifth largest marketing services group, has taken a six per cent stake in Aegis, the world's seventh largest marketing services group, best known for being the parent company of the media buying agency Carat. And, if you struggled to the end of that sentence, I am not sure I should inflict any more pain on you by analysing the significance of the move (it matters to staff and shareholders) because I want you to read the item below, and I am losing faith in the "important" bit of the heading.

A BIG reason I wanted you to read this item is that it is a rare chance to prove that I can actually be right about something - given that I am more than happy to admit when I am wrong: Mark Cranmer going to the US to run Universal McCann for example. Wrong Brit!

THIS PAST week came the unsurprising news that Jim Heekin, the global CEO of Euro RSCG had quit - a move long rumoured by many including me, and obvious when he was passed over in the recent post-Alain de Pouzilhac Havas management shake-up. We are still waiting for the news that he will take over at Grey however, news which will be of particular interest to both the Euro RSCG London boss, Ben Langdon, who has followed Heekin from McCann-Erickson to Euro RSCG, and Tamara Ingram, the smart and dynamic new boss of Grey London. But, as correctly predicted here, the Brit-in-Manhattan David Jones has ascended to the top spot globally at Euro, aided by some heavy-hitting French consuls: Mercedes Erra and Remi Babinet. Will it make a huge difference? Business-wise, who knows? But in tone, let's hope so.

The lead agency in the fifth-largest group cannot afford to take itself as seriously as Euro has done, and must surely develop a little more heart and soul as part of its positioning. The talented and creative French being so senior in the organisation will surely help that happen under Jones's smart leadership.

I still contend that the whole Havas or Havas/Aegis entity will end up as part of Sir Martin Sorrell's empire sooner rather than later. In which case, I would love to be a fly on the wall of the combined operating heads' board meetings. The amusing thing about Sir Martin (whose wicked sense of humour is widely under-appreciated) is that he would probably enjoy having me there!

Well. You'd have a sense of humour too if you had earned £52m last year.


Much as I love this, the latest in the seemingly endless series of brilliant Nike commercials from Wieden & Kennedy, this week I just had to pick a Nike ad because it's difficult for me to see how Adidas's surprise purchase of rival Reebok is anything other than some kind of moral victory for Nike.

It's as much a tribute to the brand's extraordinarily consistent marketing as anything else. Although Adidas's advertising has been highly rewarded within industry circles, it has always seemed a bit "me too" to me - "Impossible Is Nothing" is clumsy compared with "Just Do It".

Nike's skill was to cover off every potential Adidas positioning with brilliant marketing in that sector - even when Adidas owned it first, like soccer, where it is still by far the market leader. The one exception to that was "heritage", where the twice-as-old Adidas has many past Olympic and other champions, including Muhammad Ali, upon which to draw.

The two tend to duke it out in the area of performance sports, vying with each other for the uniform rights to the major clubs (Nike has Manchester United and Brazil, Adidas Real Madrid and the New York Yankees) and leagues.

And it's in the realm of leagues such as the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, where Reebok has considerable purchase, that the acquisition may make a serious difference.

For in the States, Adidas's number-one global superstar, David Beckham, and its number-one sport, soccer, have their least influence. This is where Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, and Shaquille O'Neal hold sway.

Last month, Andre Agassi switched to Adidas from Nike after 17 years, but he has a limited shelf life. Reebok's Allen Iverson relationship is probably more interesting. Only Beckham and Woods come close, globally, to the superstar who grew a brand: Michael Jordan (arguably two brands - Nike and Jordan). And certainly no other basketball player has come close to Jordan - which is why there is so much interest in the young phenomenon LeBron James. Individual NFL and baseball players just don't have the same impact. Derek Jeter Yankee jerseys do not sell in Boston or Phoenix.

Almost the only sure thing about the acquisition of Reebok by Adidas is that the marketing battle will be stepped up.

And for once, it is a battle being fought by two sides that genuinely believe in bold marketing and great creative advertising.