Perspective: Orr's departure highlights a CEO talent shortage

By Claire Beale, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 09 October 2009 08:00AM

It's been more than three weeks since we first started speculating on Will Orr's imminent departure. Rumour was, a headhunter had been talking to people about the CEO role at WCRS. Hmm.

So this week, Orr is leaving. But the CEO role will hang vacant. It seems that WCRS couldn't find anyone quite good enough to put up against, say, a Robert Senior or a Johnny Hornby. Now, Debbie Klein, the joint chief executive at WCRS's parent Engine, will spend a little more time working at the creative agency and Penny Herriman, the bright managing director, will be given more room to strut her stuff.

They'll have to work hard, though, to kick-start the agency's momentum. Billings were down more than 20 per cent by the beginning of this year, though this figure wouldn't have included the advertising account for The Sun and the News of the World, which came in at the end of 2008.

After a couple of dazzling years, business has recently mostly been going one way: out (Phones4U, Littlewoods, Holland & Barrett, and more). This week's Gala Coral win for the Engine Group was one of the few bits of good news for WCRS all year.

Even the work has failed to live up to the promise of the talent residing within the creative department.

Meanwhile, Engine has been laying plans for a stock market listing as it seeks £50 million to fund expansion; and, by the middle of this year, the group was said to be close to forming a joint venture in the US. Engine made a £1 million pre-tax loss in 2008, though revenues rose 53 per cent to £58.7 million.

For all Engine's hungry acquisition spree and its ambitious expansion plans, WCRS remains the jewel in the group crown, even despite all the disappointments this year. And there's no doubt that the creative agency needs to be on the best possible form ahead of any flotation. Which presumably also explains the decision to part with Orr.

But it's interesting that one of London's top ten advertising agencies, and one of the few that's relatively independent and can offer equity and the prospect of expansion, can't find a first-rate chief executive. Perhaps there are some great candidates out there who just didn't fancy the prospect. But I suspect WCRS's options were hardly extensive.

The advertising industry seems to produce plenty of managers perfectly capable of keeping the systems going and the machine well oiled.

But advertising execs with the personality, ambition, salesmanship and innate flair to make brilliantly inspiring and persuasive agency heads are ridiculously rare. Is it any wonder that so many clients see advertising as a commodity purchase rather than a magical ingredient that can transform their business?

You've got to admire its chutzpah. Or is it cheek? However you define it, there's something mischievously amusing about Campbell Lace Beta's decision to close its doors for new business.

The nascent agency reckons that after such a tremendously successful five months (winning Thomas Cook, Jackpotjoy, the Outdoor Advertising Association and even more), it needs to take a breather and make sure all its lovely new clients are getting the service they were promised.

So it's posted a blog on Campaignlive announcing that it's giving its pitching muscle a rest for a while. Now, anyone who knows Garry Lace knows that asking him not to chase business is like asking a dog not to lick its own balls. But full marks for giving us all a nudge and reminding us CLB's still there and feeling a bit smug.

As if that wasn't enough, CLB is offering £1,000 for "the most interesting, amusing, useful, useless, outrageous comment" posted on its Campaignlive blog this month. Meanwhile, the rest of us are wondering when we're actually going to see some work from the CLB crew. We're waiting.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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