CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER - CHRIS HIRST. New Grey MD proves missing link in Lace's line-up

Chris Hirst's low profile is about to get a significant boost. Jeremy Lee reports.

So the final piece of the Grey chief executive Garry Lace's new management jigsaw is in place with news that Chris Hirst, Fallon's client services director, is joining Grey Worldwide London as the managing director.

Hirst replaces Steve Richards, who resigned at the end of March after Lace took a scythe to the existing management, laying off in the region of 50 people and imposing his new order.

Hirst joins a youthful new management team. They are all in their 30s and they have all been lured from leading creative hotshops. The new-business director, Nicola Mendelsohn, and the planning director, Dylan Williams, both from Bartle Bogle Hegarty, as well as the executive creative director, Dave Alberts, from Mojo Partners in Sydney, all come with considerable creative pedigree.

Congratulations all round, but it would be remiss not to ask the striking question: who the hell is Hirst and why did Lace chose someone with very little profile to fill the last remaining office in the Grey management suite?

His Fallon credentials no doubt stood him in good stead. And, according to Lace, he has been monitoring young Hirst's career for some time. "He's somebody that I was talking to when I was at TBWA. Given that he has also worked with Dylan and Nicola, his name kept coming up and it was clear that there was a relationship between them," Lace comments.

Hirst is not worried that there is so little known about him. "I'm not worried about my profile. As a person, I'd prefer it if people judged me on what I do, rather than what I say," he claims.

To fill in the gaps, Hirst, 32, started his advertising career at Lintas after graduating with an engineering degree from Oxford. He draws a parallel between the early days of his career and his subsequent appointment as the managing director at Grey. "The challenges are similar - Lintas didn't have a great reputation either," he says.

After just a year at the agency he left to join BBH, where he spent four years working his way up the ladder to become an account director, meeting Mendelsohn and Williams on the way.

In 1999, Hirst was on the move again, this time joining Fallon, which at the time was six months old, as an account director. Two years later, Hirst was made the client services director working on advertising briefs including Sony and the BBC. His proximity to the much-vaunted Skoda campaign, however, is what has really boosted his credentials.

Given that he has been at Fallon almost since it was launched, Hirst claims it will be a wrench to leave.

"Emotionally, I'm very close to it and to say that it wasn't an easy decision is an understatement. But you reach decision points in life and I wanted to take a challenge," he says. At Fallon, still a relatively small agency, Hirst's potential was capped because above him in account management sat the agency founders Michael Wall and Robert Senior.

The challenge that Lace presented him was to become part of the team that succeeds where others have failed - to make the eponymous agency exciting, talked about and, more importantly, included on pitchlists.

So what does Lace think that Hirst can provide? "He's extremely down to earth, he's energetic, good with clients and he's been around some good work," Lace comments. The same could be said of the rest of the team that Lace has put in place.

Although not quite an agency within an agency, Lace claims that these people were hand-picked depending on whether he thought he could risk his own cash by going into partnership with them. "The brief to myself was, would I set up an agency with these people? And the answer has been yes," he says.

This relatively wholesale clear-out of Grey's old order was ruthless, but it's clear that Lace is a man with his mind made up.

It was this determination and clear vision that persuaded Hirst to take the job. "No-one has approached it so single-mindedly. It is a genuine overhaul of the agency team," he says. Hirst is confident that the agency can convert more domestic business into wins and can provide a much more exciting creative reel.

He says that he wasn't looking for the job and that he wouldn't have taken the post if it hadn't been for the changes.

So what is Hirst going to do at Grey? His short answer is "instill confidence".

He adds: "Grey is a big commercially successful company and it could improve its creativity and its domestic new-business performance."

Lace is optimistic that Hirst, along with the rest of his management team, will bring in their own talent and that Grey will therefore have an entirely new feel.

In fact, after some recent wins including the centralised Dairy Crest account and Visa International, he thinks that it is already bearing fruit. "We're starting to get on some interesting pitchlists," Lace comments.

So Lace's masterplan is now in place. He's attracted young and energetic talent and there's no doubt that he's injecting dynamism into the place.

The challenge lies not only in attracting sexier domestic new business, however. The agency has to continue to satisfy its defining clients Procter & Gamble and Masterfoods on a global scale and it's at its peril that Grey London forgets that.

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