Four months into his new post in London and James Heekin, the
regional director for McCann-Erickson in Europe, the Middle East and
Africa, is already a staunch Arsenal supporter. It’s rather fitting,
given that McCanns has often been touted as the ’Arsenal’ of the
advertising world, with a well-established reputation for solidity but a
less impressive creative profile.
It’s not a comparison that Heekin, wearing a dark blue shirt and looking
every inch the multinational executive, would take kindly to. ’The
perception that McCanns’ creative reputation is behind other areas in
the agency, lags behind the reality,’ he says. ’This is one of the
things I have to address.’
Heekin is determined to improve the agency’s success rate. ’Losing is
not an option at McCanns,’ he says affably, but with determination.
’McCanns has a certain swagger, a confidence which some people call
arrogance. It’s an attitude that I love.’
His self-confessed ’passion for winning’ stands him in good stead as he
aims to bring in yet more business for the largest McCanns region, with
current billings of more than dollars 4.5 billion. Last year, Europe,
the Middle East and Africa brought McCanns more than dollars 400 million
worth of new business. Heekin concedes, however, that these were
He wants more multinational clients, with healthcare, telecoms, consumer
electronics, retail and financial services at the top of the list.
The success of Heekin’s four years in North America means expectations
are running high. Between 1994 and 1997, McCanns made new-business
records, by signing up blue-chip clients such as Mastercard, Motorola,
Smith Barney, Marriott, Reckitt & Colman and Chase Manhattan Bank. His
efforts earned Heekin the Healy Award, the highest accolade from the
Interpublic Group of Companies, McCanns’ parent company.
It presumably also helped him land his latest job, which network
managers in Europe had been expecting to go to David Warden, former
group chairman of the UK agency.
The one question mark is how well a man accustomed to putting his
thumbprint on all aspects of an agency’s work is going to adapt to a
role that demands a more distant overview of a culturally diverse area.
’I do love running an agency. This is a very different role,’ Heekin
admits. ’But I also like to set myself challenges. This is an exciting
time to be in Europe - just look at the number of multinationals here. I
can’t think of a better place to live right now than London.’
The stakes are high, a scenario which Heekin will enjoy. In the agency’s
top European job, he has joined a handful of operators being groomed as
the possible future head of the global network.
While Heekin has proved himself as a major player in New York, his
present post - outside of familiar territory - will give him experience
across two-thirds of the McCanns world, putting him in a powerful
position. The time when John Dooner, the McCanns worldwide chairman,
could take over from Phil Geier - leaving a gap at Interpublic - is not
too far away.
Reaching the upper echelons of a first-division agency has always been
on the cards for Heekin despite initial reticence. His father was a
protege of David Ogilvy and went on to head O&M’s New York offices. ’I
saw the long hours, the highly competitive environment and I was fixated
on not entering advertising ,’ Heekin says.
It may be hard to believe now but after Heekin left Williams College
with a liberal arts degree, he spent two years picking crops in the US,
was a barman in the West Indies and rode a motorbike across Europe. He
even did a spell as a high-school teacher.
At the tender age of 25, he finally decided to follow in his father’s
footsteps, joining J. Walter Thompson as a graduate trainee in the
strategic department. Ten years later, after a stint at Bozell
Worldwide, he was back at JWT heading the Miller and Burger King
accounts, eventually becoming general manager of the New York
Such a relatively swift and smooth passage up the managerial ladder does
not hap-pen without a clear strategy, possibly the discipline Heekin
values most in the industry. So is he being uncharacteristically
indirect when he says, ’the next step will take care of itself’? For
there is no doubting that it is Heekin who will be taking care of the
1975: Trainee in J. Walter Thompson’s research department
1978: Brand manager, General Foods
1980: Bozell Worldwide, executive vice-president
1985: Moves back to JWT to head the Miller and Burger King accounts,
becoming general manager in 1988
1993: Joins McCann-Erickson as head of the dollars 3 billion North
1998: Appointed worldwide executive vice-president, regional director
for Europe, Middle East and Africa.