Close-Up: Newsmaker - European chief has major plans for WPP's Red Cell

Amanda Walsh has the wit and enthusiasm to succeed at Red Cell, Lucy Aitken says.

Amanda Walsh, the doyenne of WACL and apparently loved by pretty much everyone, has been picked by WPP to run its fledgling European Red Cell network. Her brief is to give the network presence and make clients aware of its existence. She appears to have the tenacity to do so.

The mere mention of her name elicits the following avalanche of praise.

"She has style and substance and an enormous army of agency and client fans," according to Cilla Snowball, the chief executive of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.

"She combines intelligence and ambition with being genuinely charming, approachable and incredibly impressive," Judy Mitchem, M&C Saatchi's marketing director, says. "There are very few account handlers who have a better understanding of creatives and what makes them tick," is how Walsh's former partner Murray Chick describes her.

"She's universally popular and tells it like it is. She's a people person and great fun," Carol Fisher, a founding partner of The Ingram Partnership, says.

Walsh has a big job in front of her as Red Cell has 22 European agencies, including 15 former Bates offices. "It's all going to be about people, clients and new business," she says. "I want to build bridges between the agencies."

Her appointment came about after a meeting with Sir Martin Sorrell at the end of January. Following the departure of Lee Daley, the network's London-based former chief executive, WPP realised it needed a heavyweight based in Europe.

According to one source, it took a "nano-second" for Sorrell to suggest that Andy Berlin, Red Cell's chairman and chief executive in New York, meet Walsh.

Berlin, who founded the New York hotshop Berlin Cameron, which was bought by WPP in 2001, invited Walsh to a party to celebrate being named Advertising Age's Agency of the Year. The accolade came largely off the back of its Coca-Cola win, business which recently grew when Coca-Cola assigned the agency to launch a new product, a compromise between Diet and Classic Coke.

Walsh spent the day with Berlin. "We instantly felt comfortable with each other," he recalls. "We clicked immediately," Walsh says. "The team at Berlin Cameron is fantastic. It's like a start-up. There are no departments or reception and there's so much energy."

Walsh oozes energy. A former managing director of WCRS and WACL president, she fronted Walsh Trott Chick Smith from 1996 to 2003. At Red Cell, she is reunited with Steve Henry, with whom she worked at WCRS, where she was from 1984 to 1995. It was here that she developed her talent for client handling.

Henry says: "She'll be a fantastic asset to the network because of her combination of experience, intelligence and sensitivity. She has all the necessary skills to deal with the issues that we face."

She quit WTCS last April and, after a year off, is excited to be back: "I love working with creative people. This is a really good job for me. Red Cell's been around for three years, but really it's a new company. The people who run it are entrepreneurs who started their own companies."

In leaving WTCS, which never appeared to fulfil the potential of its founders, Walsh exposed her ambition. She says simply: "It wasn't as successful as I wanted it to be."

Walsh is hungry for a challenge. Her friend of 18 years, Sue Farr, the chairman of Chime's advertising and marketing services division, has confidence in her: "She's always taken on chunky new challenges and made them happen."

New clients will be key and Walsh is keen to get started. Her general affability and networking skills should stand her in good stead: "I'm going to make sure people feel like they're working together. We are going to get on more international pitches. We've got to aim to be the frontrunner."

Red Cell's proposition is that clients are seeking a middle ground between networks and local creative hotshops. Walsh sees Red Cell as the perfect compromise for clients who want the creativity of a hotshop and the reach of a network. "A lot of times, clients need a network," she says. "They can't go to Clemmow Hornby Inge because it's just CHI in London. Red Cell has got to be the most creative network within WPP. We would not have won Coke if we hadn't been part of a network."

Its founding client is Alfa Romeo, which it handles in 20 markets. Other pan-European clients include Birds Eye Wall's in nine markets and Georgia Pacific (which owns the tissue brands Nouvelle and Lotus Thirst Pockets) in 20 markets. Red Cell also handles Sky in the UK and Italy. It has a respected Paris shop, Les Ouvriers du Paradis, acquired by WPP in 2002, and some strong agencies in Scandinavia. Recent work from HHCL/Red Cell has shown that its creative product is confident again after a catastrophic exodus of clients in 2002. Walsh promises that HHCL will be "the driving force of the European network".

Walsh's biggest challenge won't be London, but the rest of Europe. "I'm very conscious that I only ever knew about the UK market," she admits.

Running a European network is a big leap from running the UK's 53rd-biggest agency with billings of about £12 million.

The very muted success of WTCS makes some observers wary of her appointment.

The hope is that Walsh will have more support from her new partners at Red Cell. The feeling is that her ambitions better match those of the Red Cell line-up than those of her former partners at WTCS.

She's definitely got a steep learning curve ahead. John Wringe, the chief executive of The Sandom Group and Red Cell's founding chief operating officer, reminisces about his days at the network: "When I went in, I hadn't had any international experience and I saw it as a plus point but, boy, does it drag you down. There's also the additional self-set challenge of being the most creative network within WPP. I don't know how you can make that happen with what you've got at the moment."

"It's probably one of the toughest jobs in the business," he adds. "Red Cell is a network dominated by continental Europe. HHCL has changed that to a certain degree, but Walsh should be on a plane. That's a job that needs to be done."

Importantly, though, Walsh has Laurence Mellman, a former WPP senior manager with mergers and acquisitions experience, as the global chief operating officer. Berlin says: "Laurence is senior and really good at the admin and managerial detail."

If there are agencies to close - and some shake-out is expected - Mellman will be the one clocking up the air miles and getting his hands dirty, leaving Walsh free to bring in the clients.

The challenges are considerable. Walsh must travel to learn about the different agencies so she can knit them together and promote Red Cell's philosophy, but her drive, confidence and likeability should help her.

Berlin is enthused by her arrival. "Hiring Amanda is an accomplishment.

You know there will be people who say 'why didn't you hire someone who had network management experience?' The answer? If Red Cell's success is going to break the pattern of networks, how can any network experience be pertinent?" he says.

Snowball sums it up: "Looking at that great list of markets looks like a punishing schedule, but Amanda is not afraid of a big challenge. She will give it her all."

QUESTIONNAIRE

Age: 45

Lives: Islington

Family: Husband (photographer and art director) Brian Stewart,

stepdaughter Sophie, 21

Favourite ad: Benson & Hedges "iguana"

Describe yourself in three words: Enthusiastic, honest, fun

Greatest extravagance: My husband's shopping budget

Most treasured possession: My photo collection

Most admired agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty (it's too naff to say Berlin

Cameron)

Living person you most admire: Eileen Walsh (my mother)

One to watch: Red Cell

Motto Carpe: diem (I'm a lapsed Catholic)

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