CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER - CHRIS HERD. New-media high-flier takes on Bates UK challenge. Chris Herd says the agency is about to turn the corner, Francesca Newland writes

Chris Herd's resignation would have come as little surprise to

WCRS's chief executive, Stephen Woodford.



In March, Woodford announced his decision to make Jason Coward the

managing director of the agency. The appointment ended a two-way race

between Coward and Herd for the job.



So Herd, who by all accounts has an extremely methodical career plan

mapped out in his head, took another course. Treating Coward's

appointment as only a minor setback, he secured the managing director's

job at Bates UK within four months of losing out at WCRS.



Despite not awarding him the top role at WCRS, Woodford is full of

praise for Herd. "He will be an excellent managing director," he says,

begging a rather obvious question. "There is no question about his

ability." Woodford declines to explain why he didn't make Herd managing

director, but insiders say the decision came down to office politics and

Coward's proximity to WCRS' s newly secured £45 million account

for mobile phone operator Vodafone.



For his part, Herd established WCRS's digital division, e-brands, at the

beginning of last year. It has been deemed a success after securing

e-business clients, including CNN, and has become one of London's more

prominent dotcom agency brands.



However, with e-brands now fully integrated into WCRS, and no subsequent

managing director role opening up, Herd clearly felt that it was time

for a change. Bates' group chief executive, Toby Hoare, thinks that his

new signing needed another challenge, while Jonathan Rigby, Lowe Lintas'

new-business director and a former colleague of Herd's at WCRS, adds

that his passion for the agency may have dwindled. "In order to get

ahead at WCRS, you have to have a fire in your belly for WCRS," Rigby

says. "Now he feels like he's treading water there."



Herd's credentials in the dotcom world fit neatly with Bates' integrated

positioning and impressed Hoare. "I describe him to staff as a modern

communications guy," he says. However, Herd has no intention of setting

up an equivalent operation to e-brands at Bates. To him, the existence

of an independent digital shop was very much a means to an end,

supplying him with management credentials and an insight into the new

economy, rather than a vocation.



However, Herd's digital expertise may not be the most crucial aspect of

his appeal to Bates. At 34 years of age, he fits a far more significant

criteria. Since Hoare arrived two years ago, he has been reshaping the

agency, appointing Andrew Cracknell as its executive creative director

and Tim Broadbent, a former colleague of Herd's, as the executive

planning director. Slowly but surely, he has also replaced what some

term "dead wood" with newer, hipper faces. "There were a lot of good

people who had been doing their jobs for a long time - a lot of baggage.

It needed a fresh approach. We now have new people running big accounts

such as the Royal Mail and B&Q. Chris is the final piece in that

puzzle," Hoare says.



"It's the right thing for Bates to have lots of experience with Andrew,

Tim and I," he adds. "But I also need someone to develop the next

generation."



Herd is keen to meet the challenge. "It's the right time for me and

Bates," he says. "The agency is turning a corner. It has a strong

creative and strategic history and I think it is hungry at the

moment."



Herd, who first joined WCRS in 1990, has worked on some of the agency's

premier accounts, including BMW, Prudential and latterly Land Rover. A

two-year stint at Leagas Delaney between 1995 and 1997 saw him add the

BBC's "perfect day" to his creative portfolio. "He's a very good

champion of creative work," WCRS's executive creative director, Leon

Jaume, says approvingly.



Herd's ability for getting good work through will prove particularly

useful at Bates, an agency dominated by large retail clients not known

for their creative risk-taking. However, another key aspect of his role

will be to attract new business from clients looking for exciting

ideas.



"No-one is in doubt that Bates is a safe pair of hands," he says. "But,

in the long term, I want to evolve the client base towards big brand

ideas that provide creative opportunities."



He doesn't think brands have to be trendy, however, to provide such

opportunities.



"You don't have to be small and niche to produce great ads," he argues.

"The best I've worked on have been the BBC and Land Rover, they're

hardly small."



Herd has a quiet nature, which some mistake for being wimpish. Those who

know him insist his outer calm is misleading. "He's as stubborn as a

mule," Woodford testifies.



"He has a very clear vision of what he wants." Jaume adds: "He's not a

shouter but tends to do things quietly. He's not the bullying type, but

gets things done through determination."



Equipped with steely determination, creative integrity and youth, Herd

could prove to be a wise choice as managing director of the emerging

"new Bates". WCRS's loss may well prove to be Bates' gain.



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