The World: The World: Lowe looks for real passion and turns to the Wall

By Noel Bussey, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 21 August 2009 12:00AM

Is Michael Wall the right man to prove Lowe Worldwide can offer top-level creative ideas on a global scale?

It's not particularly difficult to find inspiration when you're sitting in one of Europe's finest restaurants surrounded by priceless works of art.

Maybe that's why when Michael Wall, the new chief executive of Lowe Worldwide, was being interviewed by Campaign about his new job while sitting in the La Colombe d'Or just outside Nice, he was so effusive, animated and energetic.

Either that or he was just so happy to have moved out of the easy life offered him by his former role as the chief executive of BBDO Portugal - yes, he may have cut his golf handicap in half but, after a while, it doesn't quite add up to the excitement generated by the hustle and bustle of a London start-up or the stress of running a network such as Lowe, for that matter.

And he readily admits: "There are plenty of challenges for me. It's definitely not a maintenance job."

He's not kidding either. It's a network that has been through the ringer in the past few years as it struggled, like a confused teenager hitting puberty, to find out what it actually was after the merger with Ammirati Puris Lintas in 1999.

Steve Gatfield, who vacated the role Wall will be stepping into, says: "It was a mismatch of titanic proportions. A creative micro-network and a gigantic global entity meant that one company added to another did not make two or three, but one and a half. It took us a long time to work through that and get it to somewhere not only profitable, but successful as well."

And Tony Wright, the chairman of Lowe Worldwide, is confident that the network is now exactly where he wants it to be and that Wall, who will start later this month, is the catalyst to force it into its next stage of growth. He says: "I spent three-and-a-half years with Steve doing a lot of structural things - the next phase is to focus on the quality and breadth of the creative output and get back to Lowe's creative roots. We now have a clear idea of who we are." At this point, the pair fire into an impassioned double-act speech about how the network has positioned itself.

Apparently, it will sit between the big "lumbering" networks and the small micro-networks that are "hampered by their size".

The plan is to offer top-level creative and good global ideas in a large number of markets, but without being hamstrung by a lack of reach or slow creative processes. So, ultimately trying to offer the best of both worlds.

Wall says: "Lowe has an incredibly single-minded focus to be a creative network and we don't want to be distributing another agency's ideas like some of the bigger networks do. You don't attract top talent that way - so we need to be handling our own creative."

Wright adds: "But you can't be a micro-network either. For brands such as Knorr you can't sit in London and produce ads for the Russian market." As proof that the new Lowe can offer this around the globe and still handle the global scale, Wright cites agencies such as Lola, the Madrid-based creative boutique that opened in 2007, Lowe New York and Lowe Argentina as the network's global creative powerhouses which are driving the business forward.

However, they know that the network hasn't been firing as well as it could in new business.

Gatfield says: "Knorr and Electrolux were good wins, but it had been a long time since we'd won anything of worth - they'll really need to build on these couple of wins pretty quickly."

Wright admits this as well: "We definitely need to get on the map with new business. And the first step is to build on our presence in the US to run pitches and put our best team on client reviews."

And this will, more often than not, mean the three senior members of the network management team. Wright, Wall and Matthew Bull, who recently moved back to being the chief creative officer of Lowe Worldwide after almost three years as the chairman of the Lowe Bull Group in South Africa. Wall says: "Like with any successful agency or network, it's the team that counts, and a suit, a planner and a creative who work well together is the best way."

However, this does beg the question of whether Wall can fit into the group as well as Wright hopes. Some fear that despite holding an international role for Fallon, where he was the president of international, his time in London and Portugal don't set him up with the experience needed to take the helm of a full-functioning global network. But Wall, who is just as confident as ever, shrugs this off assuredly, pointing out that the important thing is having an affinity with the business, not just experience in running loads of offices.

"I've worked for a number of years on multinational clients, the scale is different but the values are common - the Fallon ideology translates to Lowe." Meanwhile, Wright is a little more cerebral about it. Well, he is a planner.

"We wanted someone who had the energy for international business and an eye for creative. There are a lot of operational people out there who may have had experience - but they lack the passion and the creative touch that Michael brings." This move back towards the creative style of the pre-Lintas Lowe heyday could be the reason why Gatfield, a much more operationally minded manager, and Wright parted ways last year to allow Wall to step into the breach after a nine-month search.

One thing is clear, Wall is under pressure and whether a good creative heritage in a single market is enough to make up for the lack of global experience could be the difference between Lowe re-establishing itself on the global scale or fizzling out for good.

WALL'S CV

1990: Started his career as a graduate trainee at DMB&B

1992: Joined Lowe Howard-Spink as an account executive on Tesco

1995: Joined Simons Palmer

1997: Moved to TBWA when the agency bought Simons Palmer

1998: Launched Fallon with Robert Senior, Laurence Green, Richard Flintham and Andy McLeod

2004: Named head of international, Fallon

2008: Became chief executive, BBDO Portugal

2009: Appointed chief executive, Lowe Worldwide

A BRIEF HISTORY OF LOWE

1999: Lowe merges with Ammirati Puris Lintas

2001: Jerry Judge becomes the chief executive of Lowe Network

2003: Interpublic Group merges Bozell with Lowe agency in New York

2004: Tom Bernadin quits as the chief executive of Lowe New York to join Leo Burnett. The agency loses the £170 million Verizon Wireless account. A total of 47 jobs are lost in London and New York

2004: Tony Wright is named as Judge's successor. Takes over running the network as chairman

2004: Steve Gafield joins as the chief executive with a brief to overhaul the network's structure to meet the changing global communications scene

2005: Lowe London loses the £47 million Tesco business to Frank Lowe's start-up agency The Red Brick Road

2007: Forms a strategic alliance with the German independent network Scholz & Friends

2007: Wins the £100 million Knorr business, including its soups, culinary products range and stock cubes, as well as its new product development

2007: Lowe Worldwide launches Lola (Lowe Latina), a Spanish-speaking micro-network based in Madrid

2008: Fernando Vega Olmos joins JWT, and many question Lowe Worldwide's grip on Unilever

2008: Gatfield announces his planned departure from Lowe

2008: Lowe loses the £100 million global Nokia N-Series account

2008: Lowe London loses the flagship Stella Artois account

2009: Michael Wall becomes the chief executive of Lowe Worldwide.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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