Media Headliner: Can the very European de Nardis crack the US?

By Alasdair Reid, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 28 November 2008 12:00AM

The appointment of Mainardo de Nardis as the OMD Worldwide chief executive raised a few eyebrows.

He's back. And this time he means business. If he hasn't forgotten what it's like to hold down a steady job, that is. Since the end of October 2005, when he announced that he was resigning his position as the global chief executive of Mediaedge:cia to join Aegis Media as its chief executive, Mainardo de Nardis has spent an impressively meagre 20 of the past 37 months at work.

There was almost a year of gardening leave before he was allowed, finally, to get his feet under his new desk at Aegis. And then, following his shock departure from that role in May of this year, there has been another stint in the corporate potting shed - and that won't officially conclude until some time in the first quarter of 2009, subject to negotiation.

We'd love to see his garden. Or gardens. (He has property in Tuscany as well as London.) They must be glorious by now - if rather liable, for the foreseeable future, to face a period of neglect. Because last week, to the surprise of many observers, not least the bosses of rival networks, de Nardis was appointed as the chief executive of OMD Worldwide. Based in New York, he will report to Daryl Simm, the chief executive of Omnicom Media Group.

A surprise - but hardly a shock. For a start, de Nardis was available - and top international media network talent continues to be a rare commodity. And second, he's a European - and it almost goes without saying these days that global media networks are likely to be run by people from this side of the pond. The US market remains too insular and introspective to produce effective internationalists.

That said, it's also true that many observers expected Omnicom either to (continue to) do nothing about OMD; or, alternatively, really push the boat out and do something breathtakingly clever and innovative.

For rivals, the former option would have been nice. Back in March 2007, when Joe Uva, the previous incumbent in the top OMD job, announced he was departing to join Unavision, Simm responded that he would take on Uva's responsibilities in a caretaking capacity while continuing his day job as the OMG Worldwide boss.

He's been doing it ever since. Some observers say the network has suffered as a result - and, paradoxically perhaps, more so in the US than anywhere else.

When challenged to back this up, though, it has to be said that the evidence is somewhat flimsy, based as it is on the fact that, when OMD won a chunk of Johnson & Johnson last year, it failed to capture the business in the US.

But rivals are resolute in their belief that de Nardis' appointment represents an opportunity for them, especially as his challenge will be pulling in new business by winning over the predominantly US-based senior clients. They also say it will be interesting see how de Nardis will work with Colin Gottlieb, the chief executive of Omnicom Media Group in the EMEA region, who is believed to have turned down the OMD Worldwide job because he refused to relocate to New York.

Although Gottlieb and de Nardis both report directly to Simm, Gottlieb is also, effectively, responsible for OMD in Europe - and, in that aspect of his role, will report to de Nardis.

"It will be interesting to see how that works out. Mainardo is passionate and dedicated and hard-working, but the fact that he's such a hands-on manager can be problematic," one observer says. "I can see there might come a point where Colin will have to invite him to modify his style."

De Nardis takes all of this sort of stuff on the chin, as you'd expect - and gives pretty much as good as he gets. "Nobody in my position could have experience of every single market in the world," he responds to the suggestion that he's not exactly a native New Yorker. "But it's also true that two times a month, for the past ten years, I've been in the US. In my career, I've spent a lot of time on big US clients," he adds.

And as for Gottlieb: "I've known Colin a long time. I've always got on with him. He's good fun to be with and we have a common interest - he loves Italian cars."

There's no getting away from the notion, however, that de Nardis has much to prove. The cold fact remains that only by a substantial stretch of the imagination can his tenure at Aegis be considered a success.

And, of course, that allows rivals to imply, without actually ever having to use the word itself, that he's a quitter. Friends of de Nardis concede that this sort of jibe is inevitable - part of the rough and tumble of corporate life. But, crikey, they add, give the guy a break. They're also likely to point out that he was extremely loyal to CIA and its successor, Mediaedge:cia. Not just loyal, but incredibly successful.

De Nardis came to prominence in the London market (and internationally) when his Italian media agency, Medianetwork, merged with Chris Ingram and Associates back in 1993 - and de Nardis was installed as the boss of the nascent global media brand, CIA Media-network. He remained at the head of the company as it evolved for 12 years, becoming an honorary Londoner in the process.

So how will he take to living in New York? Personally, he says he's really looking forward to it. He's more worried about the effects on his teenage sons (aged 14 and 16), what with important exams to be taken in the near future. It will be disruptive for their schooling and perhaps just as importantly, it will take them even further from Italy. He feels it's vital for his children to retain a feel for "their Italian blood and culture".

But, he adds, these things can be managed. "I have always liked New York. Don't get me wrong. I've always loved London," he says. "But the time is right for a change."

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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