If J. Walter Thompson's newly minted triumvirate of the chief executive, Bob Jeffrey, the president, Rosemarie Ryan, and the co-president and creative director, Ty Montague, has a dream-team quality to it, then that's intentional.
With ho-hum creative and an unimpressive new-business record (in 2004, it lost out in high-visibility pitches such as Old Navy, Verizon and Staples, although it did reel in 11 smaller wins), WPP's JWT, one of the most illustrious names in advertising with $1.4 billion in billings, faces the problem confronting many big US ad agencies: how to remain relevant. And if not by importing top talent, then how?
"It's a dream team only if they rebrand JWT and give it a point of view," the recruiter Susan Freidman, of Susan Friedman Limited, says. "Why should clients go to JWT? It doesn't stand for great creative, or integration or packaged goods. JWT has to figure out what it stands for and come up with a vision statement for clients. Hiring another big-name creative director is not the answer."
But, according to Montague (a former bartender, mechanic and white-water rafting guide), the answer involves shaking up the people, the decor and the thinking. It's a mantra chanted by most newly anointed creative directors. But what makes this situation so different is Montague's impressive track record, and his history of producing exactly the kind of innovative, non-traditional creative work that JWT is seeking.
During his four-year stint as the creative director of Wieden & Kennedy New York - his longest relationship with one agency - Montague was responsible for much ground-breaking advertising, the most startling of which, a viral campaign for the Sega Beta-7 game, involved a hoax blog by a supposed game tester who claimed that ESPN's NFL football title had had a mind-altering effect on him. It won the Content and Contact Grand Clio at the 2004 Clios, as well as numerous other awards.
What attracted Montague to JWT was the people. "I knew Bob from Goldsmith Jeffrey, and Rosemarie I worked with at Chiat\Day," he says. "We share an entrepreneurial gene and we have what you need to create great creative: scale, clients and a committed and aligned management."
There are, he says, a score of old assumptions about where creative opportunities lie. "Where you least expect them - particularly as we move into the post-TV era," he argues. "In the 50s, when television began, packaged-goods clients were among the most innovative advertisers. And the shift from the TV to the post-TV era, involves a power shift in how we think about consumers and markets." So, like the packaged-goods clients of half-a-century ago, think of yourself as the builder of your own audience.
According to Ryan, who joined in January from Kirshenbaum & Bond: "We will run the agency as though it's our own. As the co-presidents, Ty and I will be making a lot of decisions together. We're both from smaller shops - that's why Bob hired us."
Montague's ad career started out in the postroom at McCann Erickson.
After taking a series of copywriting classes, he joined Scali McCabe Sloves, then moved to Chiat\Day, Ogilvy & Mather and Goldsmith/Jeffrey, before opening his own company, Montague &. He joined Bartle Bogle Hegarty in 1998. "When you get a call from John Hegarty, you pay attention," he says. "It was a terrific experience. BBH is the best-balanced example of left- and right-brain thinking. It was tough to leave." But he did - the result of another call, this time from Dan Wieden, who offered creative control of W&K New York. It was an opportunity to show what he could do.
JWT will be hoping his slippers will be under the bed a little longer than they were at his other homes and that the start-up plans he hatched last year with Paul Hammersley are well and truly buried.
"Ty's a visionary and a pioneer," Ryan says. "We share the same philosophy. Clients want to find ways to communicate in new spaces and our first priority is to have a talented creative director."
Montague says: "It's not just about the creative department, but about changing the culture and structure of the agency." One of his first tasks is renovating the office space and the agency has hired the same architects that transformed Chiat\Day's Los Angeles home. "We're going to embrace openness and fewer walls. The whole structure needs to be more collaborative," he says. "Beta-7, for example, came about because of collaboration between many more entities than were within the agency. One of the things that's going to fall by the wayside is the baton-passing model - ie. when the client gives the brief to the account director, then the account planner, creative, etc. It's something that's evolving."
One focus, not surprisingly, will be new business. "Rather than any one sector or category, we're interested in great people. If you've got great people, then you've got great brand-builders," Ryan says.
As for the kind of work likely to emerge from JWT in the post-TV era, it's not about using either TV or the internet. "The distinction between them will shortly be a non-issue," Montague says. "It's about doing both - telling compelling stories and getting the audience to spend time with the brand in new combinations of TV and the web."
1985: Joined McCann Erickson, started in the postroom
1986: Moved to Scali McCabe Sloves. Sam Scali was rumoured to consider
Montague a surrogate son
1989: Poached by Bill Hamilton to join Chiat\Day
1991: Brought by Hamilton to O&M
1992: Moved to Goldsmith/Jeffrey
1994: Wooed back to Chiat\Day
1995: Formed Montague &
1998: Asked by John Hegarty to join BBH New York
2000: Lured by Dan Wieden to Wieden & Kennedy
2004: Joined J. Walter Thompson as co-president and creative director