CAMPAIGN DIRECT PROFILE: ANTHONY WREFORD - Invisible man takes DAS centre stage. Anthony Wreford seemed to come from nowhere to be chief of the Omnicom outfit, Ken Gofton says

By KEN GOFTON, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 13 August 1999 12:00AM

There’s hardly been a reference to Anthony Wreford in the marketing press in the past decade, and his file is one of the thinnest in the Campaign library. Yet in October he becomes president and chief executive of Diversified Agency Services Europe, Omnicom’s huge marketing services arm. He succeeds Michael Birkin, who moves to New York as global president of DAS.

There’s hardly been a reference to Anthony Wreford in the marketing

press in the past decade, and his file is one of the thinnest in the

Campaign library. Yet in October he becomes president and chief

executive of Diversified Agency Services Europe, Omnicom’s huge

marketing services arm. He succeeds Michael Birkin, who moves to New

York as global president of DAS.



More eminence grise than shrinking violet, Wreford points out that the

shortage of press cuttings reflects how he has earned his living for the

past ten years. He’s an independent corporate consultant ’providing

clients with discreet advice rather than in-your-face publicity’.



To people outside the Omnicom empire, this must still sound like an odd

appointment. Why bring in someone from outside to head a group which is

hardly lacking in management talent? The truth is that, far from being

an outsider, Wreford is the ultimate insider. Ever since BMP fought off

an unwelcome bid in 1989 from the French group, BDDP, and was, in his

words, ’white-knighted’ by Omnicom, the group has been one of his most

important clients.



Omnicom’s chairman and chief executive, John Wren, says he has been

trying to persuade Wreford to join the group in some capacity ever

since. The reason he has failed until now is because Wreford had been

too busy enjoying himself.



Not only has he had the comfort of working from home - a splendid

apartment on the Chelsea Embankment - but he’s been able to strike a

balance between consultancy, investing in ’people businesses’

(up-and-coming agencies) and his passion for sport.



’People have been asking me why, with this lifestyle, I said ’yes’ to

the appointment,’ Wreford acknowledges. ’But it was only when John

(Wren) offered me the job that I realised I needed another

challenge.’



In his role as consultant, he’s been involved in most DAS acquisitions

and strategy decisions in Europe for a decade. ’My appointment is not a

signpost for major upheaval,’ he says. However, rationalisation and

mergers within DAS will continue and takeovers remain a priority.



As Wreford points out, Omnicom has been operating a three-tiered

strategy.



It has been acquiring complete networks, such as TBWA; plugging gaps in

networks as it did when it bought BMP to slot into DDB Needham, and

moving into specialist niches, such as healthcare.



The contrast between Wreford and his predecessor, Birkin, is

pronounced.



Birkin could pass as an agency creative, despite the fact that he is a

qualified accountant with a law degree. Colleagues in the DAS

subsidiaries are in awe of his financial grasp of the business. The

slightly older Wreford is more likely to be seen in a suit but he bows

to Birkin’s deeper accountancy knowledge.



On the other hand, Wreford is ’a profoundly clear-thinking businessman,

with a great understanding of the City - and perhaps that’s what’s

needed now,’ according to Andrew Melsom, founder of Agency Insight. ’He

also has great talent with people. Put him in a meeting room full of

senior executives and he’s a knockout.’



Others emphasise his contacts. ’He’s a natural and compulsive

networker,’ notes one observer. ’There’s no-one he doesn’t know. If you

say you know a dog with three bollocks, he’ll know one with four.’



An insight into his working methods comes from James Maxwell, chief

executive of what is now the PR group, Ketchum UK. Wreford was involved

in luring Maxwell’s original company, Scope, into DAS (to form Scope

Ketchum) and, more recently, in prising the consumer PR specialist,

Life, out of the Omnicom empire to merge with it.



Maxwell says: ’He is very talented at matching opportunities to people,

whether it’s clients to agencies, or agencies to organisations like

Omnicom. He’s a great one for spotting synergies, and how chemistry will

work. He’s extremely subtle and discreet.’



The question remains how Wreford got to where he is now. The potted

biography has him starting as a junior account handler at Leo Burnett,

after graduating from Oxford in economics. From there he went to the

stockbroker, Cazenove, and then the Financial Times.



Thus, when he came to launch, aged 28, one of the first specialist

strategic corporate PR consultancies, McAvoy Wreford Bayley, he could

claim a 3-D background. ’Luck and timing have quite a big part to play,’

he says modestly. ’In 1981, companies were beginning to look at their

corporate images properly for the first time, so we were on the right

part of the mountain.’



MWB was sold three years later to Valin Pollen and after completing his

earn-out, he took a year’s sabbatical. ’I wasn’t burned out, but I was

singed,’ Wreford admits.



He returned from travelling with no clear vision of his next move.

However, BMP had just bought Davidson Pearce, and Martin Boase invited

him to do some part-time consulting. Soon he was helping to see off the

unwelcome bid from BDDP. BAT was the next to knock on his door and

suddenly his consultancy career was launched.



It has suited him well. He’s been able to combine it with investing in

businesses that interested him and with his love of sport. He’s on the

MCC’s main committee and last year led the successful campaign that

finally lifted the ban on women members. Wreford plans to keep most of

these interests going, even though being European head of DAS will be

very much a full-time job. But he makes it clear he’s done his stint of

12- and 14-hour agency days.



’At Oxford, the people who spent every day in the library actually got

worse degrees than those who worked fairly hard but also smelled the

fresh air,’ he notes. ’A lot of the DAS job is about judgment and

helping companies make the right decisions. Having a little space is

important in making correct decisions. I can think just as well walking

down the fairway as I can behind a desk.’



THE WREFORD FILE



1973: Trainee account executive, Leo Burnett



1975: Cazenove, stockbroker



1977: Financial Times, business development and special products



1981: Joint founder of McAvoy Wreford Bayley, acquired by Valin Pollen,

1984



1987: Sabbatical year



1988: Independent corporate consultant with clients including Omnicom,

McKinsey, Lehman Bros and Nike.



Member of MCC main committee and the Lords Taverners communications

committee



1999: President and chief executive of DAS Europe.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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