CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKERS/GARY BETTS AND MALCOLM GREEN; Can McCanns’ new duo answer Langdon’s brief?

By JOHN TYLEE, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 13 December 1996 12:00AM

Will the team’s talent give McCanns the creative edge it requires?

Will the team’s talent give McCanns the creative edge it requires?



A two-quid cab ride separates the Soho offices of Mellors Reay and

Partners from McCann-Erickson’s building, but Gary Betts and Malcolm

Green might as well be making a million-mile journey.



After only 19 months as the sorcerer’s apprentices at Tim Mellors’

ambitious but modest operation, the pair have been offered wizards’ hats

of their own and the chance to cast their own spells on Howland Street.



Inevitably, questions are already being asked about whether the hats -

and the leap - are too big for them. Certainly, their somewhat hasty

elevation to executive joint creative directors of McCanns (Campaign,

last week) will provoke Fantasia-like comparisons of the agency machine

rolling over them like water-carrying broomsticks.



But the biggest poser of all is whether or not a couple of widely

acknowledged nice guys can be tough enough to make unpopular decisions

amid the changes imposed on McCanns by its iconoclastic managing

director, Ben Langdon.



Whatever happens, it’s already apparent that the decision of Green, 37,

a copywriter, and his art director partner Betts, 39, to make the short

trip across town will be a defining moment for the agency they leave and

the one they are about to join.



At Mellors Reay, their departure has forced an acknowledgment that the

agency is as yet of insufficient size and maturity to dilute creative

control.



There’s no criticism of Betts and Green. But there is a recognition that

Mellors’ handover of day-to-day creative command to the pair so he could

concentrate on being chairman was hasty, a theory made credible by the

agency’s poor pitch conversion rate this year.


‘Tim is such a powerful and well-known figure that I’m sure Gary and

Malcolm must have felt his long shadow across them,’ Dragana Hartley,

the former Mellors Reay joint deputy managing director now at Walsh

Trott Chick Smith, says.



Carol Reay, the agency’s chief executive, rejects suggestions that the

Betts and Green partnership was an experiment that failed. ‘It’s just

that Tim is at his most effective for us when he’s producing ads,’ she

declares. ‘Now we have the chance to put that right.’



For their part, Betts and Green insist they were not preparing to fly

the Mellors Reay nest, but that Langdon’s offer was too seductive to

resist. And the creative directorship of McCanns is a more alluring

prospect than it has been for some years.



As a former colleague of the pair puts it: ‘If you’d told Malcolm and

Gary a year ago they were going to be executive creative directors of

McCanns they would have fallen off their chairs laughing. But things

have changed and it’s suddenly become a very appealing job.’



The pivotal figure in making this possible is Jerry Green, persuaded to

end his seven-year stint as executive creative director to become deputy

chairman.



Low profile and vehemently anti-luvvie, he has personified McCanns’

reputation for workmanlike advertising that will shift the product, even

if it won’t win over awards juries. At the same time, Green has made his

position impregnable through being a wily political operator with a

strong power base.



Much of his strength is drawn from the success of the Gold Blend

campaign, both in the UK and internationally, which has not only raised

his stock within Nestle, but also with McCanns’ worldwide bosses, who

rate him highly.



As a result, Jerry Green has been allowed to set his own agenda, to

dictate the pace of change and resist any attempts - notably by the

agency’s previous managing director, Mark Gault - to shift him. And

while Betts and Green are being presented as Jerry Green’s appointees,

Langdon has ‘flirted’ with them in the past and once came close to

hiring them for the top creative job at Collett Dickenson Pearce.



Whatever the reason for Jerry Green’s decision to step into the new

role, it’s clear he intends a clean break and word around the agency is

that he will not tolerate creatives creeping to him behind his

successors’ backs.



Jerry Green intimates that he’s now comfortable with a broader

management role. ‘If you stay in the trenches it’s impossible to keep

your eyes fixed on the horizon,’ he says.



Others believe he should have done it long ago. A former McCanns senior

manager says: ‘Jerry has always been a better planner than a creative

director. He’s always had a good handle on strategic and marketing

issues, which isn’t necessarily what you’re looking for in a creative.’



Undoubtedly, Betts and Green will have the kind of clear run at McCanns

that was denied to previous hopefuls like Dave Horry and Jeremy Clarke,

mainly because of Langdon’s firm belief that the pace of creative change

now has to be forced.



Stung by the charge that McCanns is capable only of producing tour-de-

force creativity for a limited number of small clients, he claims the

agency has had more D&AD entries in the past few years than supposed

hotshops like Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury and Rainey Kelly Campbell

Roalfe. ‘It’s progress, but it isn’t the quantum leap,’ Malcolm Green

says.



Langdon’s belief is that only by adding creative potency to McCanns’

huge resource can the agency continue to lay claim to clients like Coca-

Cola, which have shown a growing predisposition to pick the best service

wherever it can be found. ‘Howell Henry and Bartle Bogle Hegarty are

still trying to build international business with blue-chip clients.

We’ve already done that,’ he says.



Whether or not Betts and Green can disperse the creative magic more

evenly across a broader spread of McCanns clients remains to be seen.



‘They’re being hired for creative leadership, not their admin skills,’

David Warden, the McCanns chairman, insists. ‘I don’t see their lack of

experience at creative director level as an issue.’



Moreover, they also have an enviable track record acquired in big

agencies such as BMP DDB and WCRS. They devised the Walkers Crisps

campaign featuring Gary Lineker and filmed the VW Passat against a New

York backdrop to the haunting Billie Holliday track, God Bless the

Child. ‘These guys have the only showreel you don’t have to play,’ Green

says.



The pair’s success is attributed to a 14-year-old professional

partnership and a shared passion for their work which binds them

strongly together. Maybe it has something to with their broadly similar

backgrounds. Both are comprehensive school-educated Londoners. Green’s

father is an optician, Betts is the son of a former Ford worker.



Whatever the reason, Justin Cernis, the Mellors Reay new-business

director, believes the result is an almost telepathic empathy between

them. ‘Talk to one and you get both their points of view,’ he says.



Whether all this will prepare them for Langdon’s confrontational style

is a moot point. The pair insist there will be no question of

‘management by fear’ in the McCanns creative department, but former

colleagues say their personable characters should not be mistaken for

easy malleability.



One talks of their ‘steely resolve’ and astute management of the Mellors

Reay creative department which had been unnerved by Mellors’ early

withdrawal. ‘We’ll be tough if we need to be,’ Green says. ‘But not just

for the sake of it.’



Nigel Long, BDDH’s managing director, who worked with them at WCRS,

says: ‘Gary and Malcolm are nobody’s fools and they’ll not be

intimidated by anybody. Langdon will give them a tough time, but they

can handle it.’



For the moment, though, harmony reigns. ‘We respect each other and

that’s a good platform on which to build,’ Betts argues. ‘Ben Langdon

tells people the truth to their face - and this industry doesn’t have

enough people prepared to do that.’



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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