"Eventful" is how Bruce Haines, the group chief executive of Leo Burnett, describes his first year in the job. It's the tactful kind of understatement you'd expect from the man whose unruffled demeanour belies his ability to cut through the crap and identify a problem.
A year ago he unknowingly walked into one of the most political agencies in London - described by one observer as "a nest of vipers" and by Haines himself as "the most unbelievably politically charged place". He had a tough job on his hands. Added to this, two weeks before he joined, the Burnett parent, Bcom3, was bought by Publicis Groupe and he knew a merger with D'Arcy was on the cards. "It was a bit of a surprise, to put it mildly," he admits. "In terms of the effect on my brief - which was to grow the group - all of a sudden there was more group than I could shake a stick at."
Haines started at the agency following the dramatic ousting of its chief executive Stephen Whyte, who some believe, at least in part, was a victim of the vicious office politics. Haines needed to give the agency a new group vision, prepare the ground for a merger with D'Arcy, reboot morale and deal with a McDonald's review (the review was cancelled, but only temporarily - the Happy Meal business is being pitched at the moment).
All of this on top of his IPA presidency, which took up, on average, two working days each week.
Nick Bell, the executive creative director, and Kate Howe, the managing director, have both left under his management, enabling him to stamp his own mark and make a break with the past. "The first few months I took stock of the situation. I took some fundamental and far-reaching decisions." He feels the agency is a less political place as a result.
The managing director role has effectively been filled by D'Arcy's former managing director Barry Cook, a popular manager. John Poorta was elected planning director, which, together with Cook's continued management, was designed to secure the merged agency's grip on D'Arcy's clients. A successful formula to date, with Tetley stating its commitment. Its ability to continue to attract briefs from COI Communications, a D'Arcy specialty, has yet to be proven. It was dropped from COI's Drivers and Vehicle Licensing Agency's pitch at an early stage. Haines says he is proud of how the agency handled the transition of clients, although McCain's reviewed because of conflict with Heinz and Capital One has shifted its global account into McCann-Erickson.
"We didn't take anything for granted with D'Arcy clients. We went to a lot of trouble and effort to show the new Leo Burnett was the right offering," he explains.
Haines' brief involved building Burnett's group offering. He testifies to a closer relationship between the advertising agency and its below-the-line sister Leonardo: "Leonardo and Leo Burnett were very separate a year ago. Now they are joined at the hip, share business and pitch together," he explains. In addition, a new strategic planning department called Leo IQ was launched. There is some evidence this has paid off: Kellogg is using an integrated approach starting with an online campaign, through Leonardo, to get consumer feedback to decide the creative for its next TV commercial.
However, other group offerings have proved underwhelming. Spring, an interactive division, has lost one of its founders Marcus Vinton, while Made, a subsidiary agency designed to have a more cutting-edge positioning, has failed to make a mark to date.
The merger - which Haines cites as his major achievement of the first year - is nearing completion. The final phase is the relocation of all staff to D'Arcy's former offices at Kensington Village. The agency may be ditching its swanky Sloane Avenue address, but the new offices are larger, and, importantly, cheaper. Haines is confident that the move to West London will not damage morale.
"Most mergers are usually accompanied by bloodshed and ill-feeling," Haines comments. "This one was with goodwill and enthusiasm. Morale is good. We are moving because we want to be more co-operative and work as an integrated entity."
New business, or more accurately the lack of it, is a sticky subject.
The agency's poor pitch conversion rate is next on Haines' hit list.
"There is more restructuring to come, more appointments at agency and group level. I understand why clients might also want to wait before considering us, but I'm confident we now have an excellent team," he says.
A creative director is of the utmost urgency. Burnett's creative reputation, earned by the likes of John West "bear", has worn out. To get on to pitchlists, the creative reputation needs refreshing and winning any pitches without a head creative will not be easy.
With the IPA role now behind him, the politics sorted out and the merger in its final stages, Haines must demonstrate what the new Burnett can do. The agency is in a good position to grow, but can't afford to delay.
It's all eyes on Haines to prove himself in the coming year, starting with the McDonald's pitch.