CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/KEVIN KING: Success for Y&R chief who played the long game - Y&R has secured a chunk of Ford business. How will it fare? John Tylee reports
By JOHN TYLEE, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 24 July 1998 12:00AM
The champagne was still in the fridge at Young & Rubicam Europe’s London headquarters four days after the group’s astonishing capture of more than pounds 95 million worth of Ford business across the Continent (Campaign, 17 July).
The champagne was still in the fridge at Young & Rubicam Europe’s
London headquarters four days after the group’s astonishing capture of
more than pounds 95 million worth of Ford business across the Continent
(Campaign, 17 July).
There will be a celebration, Kevin King, Y&R’s account managing director
on Ford of Europe, promises. It’s just that nobody has yet found the
time to party.
For the moment, euphoria has had to give way to pragmatism. There’s
hardly been time to draw breath since Y&R supplanted Ogilvy & Mather as
Ford’s lead agency in Europe and it is having to move up rapidly through
the gears. Ford’s launch of the Focus - the first mass-market model
assignment bestowed on the network by the automaker - is only three
Meanwhile, King, 49, wants to take advantage of the company’s massive
vote of confidence to reassess the network’s management of the business
and allow wider involvement in the brand’s strategic development.
From now on things are going to be very different for King. Having spent
the past three years helping Y&R lay siege to the Ford business, he may
find that scaling the battlements was the easy bit. Now that Y&R is on
the ramparts, the real battle may be about to begin.
’King will find it much harder being the incumbent on the business than
the guerrilla he used to be,’ a former senior agency manager on Ford
Y&R’s upcoming difficulties, however, are O&M’s catastrophe. With Ford
said to account for a substantial chunk of profits for its UK agency, 30
per cent in Europe and 12 per cent worldwide, O&M staffers there are
bracing themselves for job cuts. While the news will work wonders for
Y&R’s stock price, it raises not only a big question mark over the
profitability of O&M’s WPP parent next year but also on O&M’s future as
a major London player.
To make matters worse, the expectation is that Ford is simply waiting
for Y&R to build up sufficient resources before the rump of the business
continuing to reside in O&M - the Mondeo, the Escort and the Ford
dealerships - joins the exodus.
It would be a significant way of reducing costs for Ford which, despite
improving products and an 11 per cent market share in Europe, has been
having a torrid time in the region. In 1996, the company’s UK share
dropped below 20 per cent for the first time in decades and its European
operation sustained losses of pounds 280 million. ’The extent and speed
of the switch from O&M to Y&R is a surprise,’ John Banks, a former head
of Ford at O&M and an ex-Y&R chairman, says. ’But saving money might
have a lot to do with it.’
One former O&M executive ventures to suggest that the agency should
pre-empt matters by resigning its remaining Ford business immediately,
leaving it free to chase another car account. ’O&M has been so badly
maimed that Ford should put it out of its misery,’ he says.
That’s easier said than done because of the potential threat to the Ford
account in the US, which is handled by O&M’s sister network, J. Walter
Thompson, which is also responsible for Ford’s Jaguar subsidiary. Also,
global car accounts don’t often come up for grabs. ’O&M is just going to
have to take it on the chin,’ a former O&M senior executive
Not that O&M’s misfortune should take anything away from Y&R. The
network has simply exploited the opportunities offered it by Ford over
the past decade to maximum effect along with ongoing strategic and
lifestyle research on the Ford brand.
That has been supplemented by some good creative work for the Galaxy
people carrier, while the Puma campaign established Y&R’s credentials to
produce car advertising capable of travelling across national borders.
Y&R managers see last week’s outcome as more of a natural progression
than part of a grand design.
’It’s been said that we planned it like a military operation but that
isn’t true,’ a Y&R management source insists. ’It was never our
intention to win all the business from O&M. All we set out to do was
build a relationship with Ford and win its trust.’
Much of the success is attributed to what has been called Y&R’s ’Trojan
horse’ - its Wunderman Cato Johnson direct marketing subsidiary whose
customer care programme for Ford has been adopted by the company around
Meanwhile, Y&R’s top management in New York - notably Peter Georgescu,
the group’s boss - has maintained high level relationships with Ford,
whose bosses seem to have accepted the network’s argument that a
monopoly arrangement would have to be rewarded with substantial business
if Y&R agencies were to be prevented from going after rival auto
business in local markets.
At the same time, Satish Korde, the cheerful and cerebral Indian-born
head of Y&R’s global Ford business, has played a major part in tipping
the balance of power among Ford’s ’club’ agencies.
Respected, trusted and liked among the Ford hierarchy, Korde has made it
his mission to extend Y&R’s links with the company beyond the US - where
it has handled the upmarket Lincoln model since the late 70s - and
Germany. There, an anomalous arrangement resulting from O&M’s German
operation being slow to resign its conflicting Mercedes-Benz account
when O&M won Ford across Europe means that Y&R runs the business.
From now on, it will be the ebullient Korde and the laid-back King - ’he
adopts the lowest profile in the business’, an ex colleague comments -
who will be the pivotal players in the newly augmented Ford portfolio at
Y&R, which includes not only the Focus launch but also the Ka and Fiesta
Will the partnership work? A former top agency executive who knows both
men has no doubts. ’They are a perfect combination,’ he says. ’King
doesn’t have Korde’s intellectual capacity but he’s a very clever
King’s strength is drawn from almost two decades spent working on car
business at D’Arcy MacManus Masius (Chrysler), Lowe Howard-Spink
(General Motors) and Horner Collis & Kirvan (Peugeot). Bob Wootton,
one-time media director of Horner Collis, says: ’Kevin probably knows
more about the car market than a lot of people in the auto industry
Certainly, King’s experiences have left him focused on what he does
best, having developed highly sensitive political antennae. He also
knows his limitations which became apparent when he was thrust
reluctantly into the managing director’s role at the newly merged Euro
RSCG in 1992. ’He wasn’t very good at pulling the agency together during
troubled times,’ a former colleague recalls. ’He’s a better account
Others praise King’s analytical and presentational skills, the apparent
legacy of a law degree course abandoned in its final year in favour of a
career in advertising. Paul Wilmot, a former Euro RSCG creative
director, remembers a couple of King-led pitches. ’I’d do the soft-shoe
shuffle while Kevin did the business. It went like clockwork.’
Whether or not King can tie down a leviathan of an account such as Ford
remains to be seen. Former senior managers on the business talk of
perpetual tensions between Ford of Europe and its bosses in Britain,
France, Germany and Spain who account for 82 per cent of European
Ian McAllister, Ford’s UK chairman, is one who has bridled at having to
reach sales targets without having full control of the advertising.
Agencies can get caught in the crossfire. As one former senior Ford
account man recalls: ’It was probably the most difficult job I’ve ever
done because of the complexity of the client situation.’
However, few doubt King’s capacity to surmount the problems. ’Kevin
likes to play the long game,’ a former colleague says. ’He’s paid his
Now he’s reaping the rewards big time.’
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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