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
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
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
"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
"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
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.