CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER - Communications enthusiast relishes move below the line

Industry watchers believe Brien has the conviction to build Arc.

Nick Brien has just been handed the brief to build a global integrated network out of Arc, Leo Burnett's below-the-line arm.

At first glance it doesn't seem an obvious move for a man who has made his name in media and advertising - as the co-founder of BBJ with Jerry Buhlmann, then the executive media director at Burnett before becoming chief executive of the London agency.

Brien, who is moving from Starcom MediaVest Group where he was the president of corporate business development, is the archetypal media man. He wears a sharp suit, has a slick charm and a reputation for being a bit flash, all of which adds up to an image that is traditionally more comfortable above the line than below it.

Regardless of whether the image is right, Brien is taking the role seriously and sees it as a huge opportunity for Burnett.

He is convincing in his belief that it is a hugely significant job and that Arc is crucial to the global success of Burnett. He is adamant that developing a global integrated network is what is needed to give the agency a much-needed shot in the arm.

He says: "It's about selling to the clients what they want to buy, which is integrated communications."

For back-up, he refers to a recent speech given at the American Association of Advertising Agencies conference by Jim Stengel, Procter & Gamble's global marketing officer. He gave the ad industry a C-minus for failing to rise to the challenge set a decade before by P&G's former chairman and chief executive, Ed Artzt, to embrace holistic approaches to marketing.

Brien believes wholeheartedly that, going forward, this is increasingly the kind of service that agencies will have to provide.

He says Arc will bolster Burnett's status by taking its creative ideas and using them to build relationships with consumers through below-the-line activity. "When Arc works closely with Burnett, it will seek to maximise the big creative ideas."

Although, in theory, Arc will also have to exist on its own, pitch on its own and formulate great creative on its own, Brien reports to Burnett Worldwide's chairman and chief executive, Linda Wolf.

"Arc has to create content and connections. You can't do that without great creative. There needs to be greater focus on conceptual creativity and then execution to maximise the power of creativity," Brien adds.

He talks passionately about his vision for the business, and although he is cagey about any detailed plans for Arc, the conviction with which he speaks renders his plans both plausible and exciting.

He is known for being energetic and enthusiastic, two recurring themes among those who have known him and something that infects those he works with.

Wolf says: "He has a diverse background and has gained experience in critical areas for the business.

"Our industry is converging in all different ways. He has the depth of experience to have the vision to see where the business will eventually net out. As well as having experience of the world's two main markets, the UK and the US."

John Quarrey, who runs Arc in Europe, thinks Brien's appointment is hugely exciting and the final piece in the Arc jigsaw.

"Look at what he's done building SMG in the US. He has enormous levels of enthusiasm and of building different opportunities," Quarrey says.

Brien's large personality appears to polarise opinion. He is seen as good fun and has a winning manner, but this doesn't wash with everyone.

One former colleague calls him a "phoenix" character and concurs with other sources that Brien is brilliant at talking up his achievements.

While Brien has moved through a number of roles in his 20-year career, the past 12 years have been spent at one network. He set up BBJ in 1989.

He joined Burnett in 1992 as the executive media director and became the managing director in 1996 before being named chief executive in 1996.

He took his most recent role at SMG in 2001. In the two years he spent there, he built a diversified services division, which explored opportunities in the group's non-core marketing services sectors such as event and sport, multicultural marketing and sponsorship.

The job allowed him to complete his knowledge of marketing services.

He now understands how to tap into opportunities across the network's services, enabling him to oversee its integrated offering.

He believes the skills he has amassed in this time have allowed him to become a "generalist" in marketing communications "like our clients", which means he's well placed to find the solutions that advertisers want.

"It's by design that I've moved within the organisation developing skill sets in different areas," he says.

Wolf called him one of the most "'what's next?'-focused people" in the business".

Others believe he has a long career ahead of him at Publicis. "He's been earmarked for glory," a source says. "He's very bright, personable and presentable - an ideas man."

Though the success of the new Arc model is largely dependent on Brien, it also relies on advertisers putting their money where their mouths are and taking up the services a global integrated network will offer.

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