Close-Up: Newsmaker - The charmer who aims to put Publicis centrestage

Publicis' new UK chairman brings plenty of talent to his latest role, John Tylee says.

Tim Lindsay, the agency manager with a matinee idol's cool charm, good looks and a reputation for tackling tricky roles, is back in the limelight. And adland awaits a virtuoso performance.

Next month, he'll be getting top billing at Publicis, a long-running West End production perpetually popular with its regular customers but rarely attracting rave reviews for its creative product.

Lindsay's task as the chairman of the UK group is to help it gain a reputation more in keeping with the quality of its client list and its fourth-place ranking. In short, he must get its name up in lights.

His decision to accept an offer from Rick Bendel, the network's chief operating officer, to replace the managerial gravitas of the London operation previously provided by Richard Hytner took even those closest to him by surprise.

His resignation as Lowe Worldwide's president at the end of last year, having fallen out with Jerry Judge, the chief executive, appeared to have left him bruised and disillusioned.

The pair had been one of advertising's longest-running double acts and their disagreement over the pace of reform at Lowe ended with Lindsay deciding to take several months out and contemplate whether or not to make a clean break from the business.

He even considered capitalising on his passion for surfing, by running a wetsuit company in Cornwall. "There's a hippy inside Tim that struggles to get out," a former colleague remarks.

But a 27-year advertising addiction proved hard to break. "My fear was that I'd do something that I later found wasn't right and that I might return to advertising with my tail between my legs."

Having made his decision, he acted quickly lest a fast-moving industry should brand him yesterday's man. Now, it's clear that Lindsay and Publicis regard their coming together as mutually fulfilling. "It's strange the agency isn't more celebrated than it is," Lindsay says. "I can't explain it."

He's not alone. The emergence on to the world stage of Maurice Levy, the Publicis Groupe boss "He's charming, provocative and completely beguiling," according to Lindsay, is in curious contrast to the low profile of Publicis in London.

Some attribute this to Bendel's discomfort at being in the spotlight.

Even the popularity of Gerry Moira, the agency's former creative chief, never seems to have rubbed off on Publicis itself.

Bendel's known to have approached the famously ruthless former McCann-Erickson European chief, Ben Langdon, twice for the role.

By hiring Lindsay, Bendel hopes not only to make Publicis top-of-mind, but provide more weight to its management front-line. Bendel's said to have been "deeply wounded" by the failure of the Publicis-led consortium to win the £90 million Boots pitch.

"Rick believes that Publicis would have won the business had he been able to devote enough time to it," a Publicis insider says. Bendel claims Lindsay's hiring isn't a specific reaction to Boots. "It's more to do with a recognition that I'm around less."

Tellingly, Lindsay's responsibilities will extend beyond the main agency, to cover the group's direct marketing, customer publishing and design operations. They already operate as a single profit centre and sources say Bendel will look to his appointee to make the Publicis integrated offering so compelling that the Boots situation won't be repeated.

Much will depend on the rapport Lindsay can establish with Grant Duncan, the Publicis chief executive, whose management style has been described as more about encouragement than inspiration, and Nik Studzinski, the executive creative director hired from Saatchi & Saatchi last year to be a catalyst for signature work.

Duncan anticipates no problems, pointing out that he and Lindsay have been friends since the 80s and spring from similiarly strong agency cultures - Gold Greenlees Trott and Bartle Bogle Hegarty. "Tim will help us put away the local wins we need," he says. "He has an infectious confidence that makes people brave."

The question yet to be answered is whether Lindsay enters the Publicis job with his enthusiasm undiminished. He admits not only to having been worn down by the globetrotting at Lowe - in 2002, he spent 145 nights out of the country - but also what he felt was his inability to make a real contribution to local business. "It's called the seagull syndrome. You fly in, crap over everybody and fly out again!"

So is the Publicis job a sinecure? "It's a perfectly reasonable supposition," Lindsay acknowledges. "But I intend to remain hands-on and I'm still a passionate believer in the business. If I wasn't, I'd be selling wetsuits by now."

Certainly, those who have known him throughout every stage of his career testify to a driving ambition allied to the sharp and agile mind you might expect of a Cambridge English graduate. He is said to impress clients with his intellect and strategic insights.

"You never had to explain anything to him twice at pitches," John Bartle, his former boss at BBH, recalls. "In fact, he was often way ahead of you." Adrian Holmes, the Lowe network chairman, loves Lindsay's brand of uncompromising idealism and refusal to be bounced into taking a pragmatic approach.

There's also widespread praise for him as a judge of creative work. Friends say he'll welcome the opportunity to become involved in creative output again, having been distanced from it during two miserable final years at Lowe.

Moreover, the Publicis appointment confirms the big agency as Lindsay's natural environment. In the late 80s, he and Simon Sherwood, then the joint managing directors at BBH, hatched a start-up plan but went cool on the idea after failing to find the right creative partner. "I've never regretted it," Lindsay says.

The downside of all this, according to some former associates, is an intolerance of dissenting views, a tendency to take himself too seriously and a defensiveness that makes it hard for people to get to know him well.

"He's not everybody's cup of tea," a former BBH colleague confides. "He's always so determined to push through his thinking and his vision that he doesn't mind pissing people off."

Others detect a long-running streak of vanity. "He's very charming but narcissistic in that he's aware of his physical appearance," one of his former senior managers says. An ex-BBH staffer remembers the merciless ribbing Lindsay got over a picture in a style magazine featuring him in leathers and draped over a Kawasaki motor-cycle. His leaving card from Lowe included a mirror.

The biggest debate, though, centres on whether his real talent lies in account rather than agency management. "He always thinks he can do the job better than you," one of his ex-staffers observes. "He undermines the people he appoints."

Lindsay takes the criticisms with a resigned smile. Vain? "That's for others to judge." Meddlesome? "It may have been true once but I hope people think I'm supportive and don't tell them how to do their jobs."

What's not in dispute is that he has never shirked a challenge. "Tim hasn't been as prominent in the UK as his talent and ability deserve," Bartle says. "Now he can be."

QUESTIONNAIRE

Age: 48

Lives: Hammersmith

Family: Wife, Caroline. Four children (two from a previous marriage)

Favourite ad: Lego "kipper"

Describe yourself in three words: Friendly, voluble, determined

Greatest extravagance: Motorbikes

Most treasured possession: My wife's home in Cornwall

Most admired agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty

Living person you most admire: My wife

One to watch: Publicis, "if that doesn't sound too sycophantic"

Motto: Have a good time all the time.

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