CAMPAIGN INTERNATIONAL: THE DECISION MAKERS/JAMES HEEKIN - New McCanns boss brings a passion for winning to London. James Heekin wants the industry to take another look at McCanns’ creative abilities, Ali Qassim says

By ALI QASSIM, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 11 September 1998 12:00AM

Four months into his new post in London and James Heekin, the regional director for McCann-Erickson in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, is already a staunch Arsenal supporter. It’s rather fitting, given that McCanns has often been touted as the ’Arsenal’ of the advertising world, with a well-established reputation for solidity but a less impressive creative profile.

Four months into his new post in London and James Heekin, the

regional director for McCann-Erickson in Europe, the Middle East and

Africa, is already a staunch Arsenal supporter. It’s rather fitting,

given that McCanns has often been touted as the ’Arsenal’ of the

advertising world, with a well-established reputation for solidity but a

less impressive creative profile.



It’s not a comparison that Heekin, wearing a dark blue shirt and looking

every inch the multinational executive, would take kindly to. ’The

perception that McCanns’ creative reputation is behind other areas in

the agency, lags behind the reality,’ he says. ’This is one of the

things I have to address.’



Heekin is determined to improve the agency’s success rate. ’Losing is

not an option at McCanns,’ he says affably, but with determination.

’McCanns has a certain swagger, a confidence which some people call

arrogance. It’s an attitude that I love.’



His self-confessed ’passion for winning’ stands him in good stead as he

aims to bring in yet more business for the largest McCanns region, with

current billings of more than dollars 4.5 billion. Last year, Europe,

the Middle East and Africa brought McCanns more than dollars 400 million

worth of new business. Heekin concedes, however, that these were

’smaller accounts’.



He wants more multinational clients, with healthcare, telecoms, consumer

electronics, retail and financial services at the top of the list.



The success of Heekin’s four years in North America means expectations

are running high. Between 1994 and 1997, McCanns made new-business

records, by signing up blue-chip clients such as Mastercard, Motorola,

Smith Barney, Marriott, Reckitt & Colman and Chase Manhattan Bank. His

efforts earned Heekin the Healy Award, the highest accolade from the

Interpublic Group of Companies, McCanns’ parent company.



It presumably also helped him land his latest job, which network

managers in Europe had been expecting to go to David Warden, former

group chairman of the UK agency.



The one question mark is how well a man accustomed to putting his

thumbprint on all aspects of an agency’s work is going to adapt to a

role that demands a more distant overview of a culturally diverse area.

’I do love running an agency. This is a very different role,’ Heekin

admits. ’But I also like to set myself challenges. This is an exciting

time to be in Europe - just look at the number of multinationals here. I

can’t think of a better place to live right now than London.’



The stakes are high, a scenario which Heekin will enjoy. In the agency’s

top European job, he has joined a handful of operators being groomed as

the possible future head of the global network.



While Heekin has proved himself as a major player in New York, his

present post - outside of familiar territory - will give him experience

across two-thirds of the McCanns world, putting him in a powerful

position. The time when John Dooner, the McCanns worldwide chairman,

could take over from Phil Geier - leaving a gap at Interpublic - is not

too far away.



Reaching the upper echelons of a first-division agency has always been

on the cards for Heekin despite initial reticence. His father was a

protege of David Ogilvy and went on to head O&M’s New York offices. ’I

saw the long hours, the highly competitive environment and I was fixated

on not entering advertising ,’ Heekin says.



It may be hard to believe now but after Heekin left Williams College

with a liberal arts degree, he spent two years picking crops in the US,

was a barman in the West Indies and rode a motorbike across Europe. He

even did a spell as a high-school teacher.



At the tender age of 25, he finally decided to follow in his father’s

footsteps, joining J. Walter Thompson as a graduate trainee in the

strategic department. Ten years later, after a stint at Bozell

Worldwide, he was back at JWT heading the Miller and Burger King

accounts, eventually becoming general manager of the New York

office.



Such a relatively swift and smooth passage up the managerial ladder does

not hap-pen without a clear strategy, possibly the discipline Heekin

values most in the industry. So is he being uncharacteristically

indirect when he says, ’the next step will take care of itself’? For

there is no doubting that it is Heekin who will be taking care of the

next step.



FACT FILE



1975: Trainee in J. Walter Thompson’s research department



1978: Brand manager, General Foods



1980: Bozell Worldwide, executive vice-president

1985: Moves back to JWT to head the Miller and Burger King accounts,

becoming general manager in 1988



1993: Joins McCann-Erickson as head of the dollars 3 billion North

America region



1998: Appointed worldwide executive vice-president, regional director

for Europe, Middle East and Africa.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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