The departure of the McCann London chief executive, Chris Macdonald, from these shores is a curious one: last Wednesday, he was in reassuringly familiar form – strutting around the IPA Members’ Lunch, occasionally interrupting his glad-handing to push his glasses up his nose in trademark fashion. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary and he wasn’t giving anything away.
The following day came the surprising news that he was off to run McCann Erickson New York and that the joint executive creative directors of McCann London, Rob Doubal and Lol Thomson, had been promoted to co-presidents and chief creative officers of the London office. Macdonald’s chief executive role is not being replaced.
"That seems like a reward for failure" was one of the more ungenerous responses to Macdonald’s new position, although there are other views – there is always an intrigue as to what McCann senior executives are up to, which would be worthy of ancient Rome.
For Macdonald, it certainly looks like a nice promotion – McCann London has seemed to bump along the bottom for a number of years, rarely troubling either the new-business tables or the creative awards, so he’s obviously made a big impression on the new global chief executive, Harris Diamond. McCann New York is a prize that London never was. For the likeable Doubal and Thomson, it is good news too and maybe also a little surprising given that the pair has yet to show much of their undoubted creative flair on McCann London clients.
A more charitable view, however, is that Macdonald is deserving of the new job and was the victim of the dubious management decisions made by Nick Brien, the former McCann Worldgroup chief executive (who himself found a metaphorical blade had been inserted between his ribs by the Interpublic chairman, Michael Roth, last year).
There is always an intrigue as to what McCann executives are up to, which would be worthy of ancient Rome
The hiring of Linus Karlsson as the chairman and chief creative officer for both McCann London and New York looked like a confusing fudge – and also led to the departure of the previous executive creative director team Simon Learman and Brian Fraser and an 18-month interregnum before Doubal and Thomson’s arrival. Just two years previously and at the time of his elevation to the chief executive job, Campaign quoted Macdonald as saying: "I feel so lucky to have Brian and Simon. I wouldn’t want anyone else." He therefore didn’t seem to have a great deal of choice in Karlsson’s arrival, but fortunately Doubal and Thomson are now finally finding their feet.
As for the truth – well, it would take the judgment of Soloman (or Bieber) to decipher what really went on. But as a footnote, the loss of the charismatic and energetic Macdonald leaves the UK agency scene slightly less colourful.