There are not many people who feel such an affection towards an agency that they return to it four times throughout their career - but when it comes to J. Walter Thompson, Billy Mawhinney is truly smitten.
The creative director of Faulds Advertising will soon be returning to London to team up with JWT's senior copywriter John Donnelly, who has been without a senior art director since the death of his partner Ken Grimshaw last year.
The news comes as no great surprise to many in the industry, as the Soho grapevine has been full of talk that Mawhinney's burgeoning family in London was proving an irresistible lure. So when he was approached by Donnelly to join the agency he first joined 24 years ago, he jumped at the chance. "I know at my age I should know better, he laughs.
Ironically, the boy from Belfast is returning to work under Jaspar Shelbourne, the agency's executive creative director whom he and his former partner Nick Welch promoted to be their deputy when they held Shelbourne's current position at JWT.
Shelbourne summarily dismisses any ideas that Mawhinney's new position to a former deputy could be problematic. "It's completely meaningless to both of us. It's so easy to get hung up on that peripheral crap, he says. "Jaspar and I had an open and frank discussion about this," Mawhinney, who now just seems genuinely interested in getting on with the business of actually making ads, responds. But wouldn't Mawhinney like to take up his old mantle there? "If I'm honest, Jaspar's more capable of being a creative director of JWT. I'm no good at the politics - it tends to be written on my face, he says.
During a four-year spell at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, beginning in 1985, Mawhinney produced the award-winning "man in black commercial for Moosehead beer and "tour rep heroes for Horizon, he returned to JWT to become the joint executive creative director with Welch. But despite winning awards for his Kit Kat "Andy Capp spot and the Polo mints "face poster, Mawhinney cites his response to the divisions that he found in the agency this time around as proof of this lack of interest in politics.
The first to admit he's not much good at playing that game, he left JWT again in 1995. "It had become more political than it had ever been and I was useless at that, he explains. So he and Welch decamped to CDP - only to find the place in turmoil. He compares the nine-months' experience with "a bad mid-week result to Macclesfield", in one of many football analogies used by the fervent Manchester United supporter.
Brief flirtations with Still Price Lintas, Ogilvy & Mather and Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper followed, but Mawhinney did not properly settle. "When I find myself in unsettled waters I'm not at my best, he admits. "You only have to look at my CV after CDP to see I was drifting. Dennis (Chester, Faulds' managing director) gave me the opportunity to come to Faulds and I took it."
Moving to Faulds indeed proved an anchor to what was at the time Mawhinney's directionless career. Chester, for his part, reckons that although Mawhinney helped reinvent Faulds creatively, the agency similarly helped his career.
"We needed more spark and his career needed reinventing, he says.
When Mawhinney arrived as the creative director at Faulds in 1999 it was to find an agency pulling in the billings but with a rather lacklustre creative department. However, that began to change under his energetic eye. Chester says: "In his first two years, he reorganised all the teams and was a bundle of energy."
However, after that the lure of his family in London was evidently becoming a preoccupation, something that did not go unnoticed by Chester: "Billy has made me aware for about six months that he was looking for a move and to rejoin his family. The importance of a settled family environment to the man who is married to his childhood sweetheart is clear. "He's besotted with his family and his grandchildren, his friend and the creative director of EHS Brann, Patrick Collister, testifies.
Some have also suggested that Faulds' recent acquisition of Malcolm Moore Deakin Hutson trod on Mawhinney's toes by bringing in Tony Malcolm and Guy Moore to share the role of creative director with him.
Mawhinney says he sees it as a situation which offers the agency the extra resources of two more experienced creative directors, but Chester is not convinced, saying: "I think that one of Billy's issues was that we were making three creative directors."
Either way, it seems that the lure of Soho had turned Mawhinney's thoughts irrevocably southward, leaving him largely unwilling to adapt to the changes that were taking place at Faulds. "What was happening with London and Asatsu was not what I signed up for here, he says. "But whether I was wanting those changes or not, this decision has been driven by family, rather than those."
Indeed, while he's enjoyed his time at Faulds, he's obviously now relishing the thought of decamping south with his family and says he can't believe his luck at being offered a job at JWT that will allow that. He concludes: "I did think last time I'd definitely cut the cord, but it seems not."