GGT takes a new shape in the hands of its managing director, Karen Yates
The trouble with Grant Duncan is that he won’t be rattled. Three
quarters of an hour of needling about his new blueprint for GGT -
announced in Campaign last week - and Mr Unflappable is still calmly
plodding through its virtues in perfect advertising speak.
This is a problem. It means this article could be yet another story
about an agency reinventing itself, or it could be a rip-roaring bun-
fight where the swashbuckling architect of GGT’s master plan defends his
brainchild to the death. But Duncan is too polite to swash. And if he
has a buckle, he keeps it under tight wraps during encounters with
The truth is that one year into the job, Duncan is still patiently
feeling his way around as managing director of an agency with a pretty
stormy past. With two of the toughest cookies in the business looking
over his shoulder - the chairman, Mike Greenlees, and the European chief
executive, Jan Hall - Duncan hasn’t got time to dally in making GGT zap
along like the old days. And, as usual, the place is full of strong
characters with strong opinions on everything from advertising to what
colour to paint the walls.
To the outsider, this spare-framed, softly spoken, unperturbable Scot
looks an unlikely choice. You would call his presentational style
encouraging rather than inspirational - a doer rather than an ideas man.
However, insiders will tell you that this is exactly what he was chosen
for: to be a facilitator. The yoke that pins down wildly disparate and
strong-willed personalities, and hitches them, as it were, to the same
In this, he has undoubtedly been successful. Former staffers tell of a
course they attended in which each of GGT’s top managers had to be
‘sold’ by a different advertising campaign. The slogan they came up with
for Duncan was ‘nicer than God’.
‘The management of GGT had never all pulled in the same direction until
Grant got there,’ one remembers, ‘he was a very calming influence.’
But as well as those who admire Duncan’s likeability, there are others
who doubt his ability to do a task as big as the one in front of him. In
fact, some are surprisingly vociferous about this mild-mannered man:
‘He’s weak and unimaginative,’ one colleague from Duncan’s days at
Collett Dickenson Pearce, says. ‘He has zero grasp of creativity and
creative people. I’m astounded he’s in the position he’s in...I guess it
must be as Greenlees’ puppet.’
Duncan, true to form, is completely unfazed by rude questions about how
he got the job. He and his colleague, Rosie Doggett, were both deputy
managing directors for two years while Greenlees combed the city for a
suitable top man. Then, in August of last year, he apparently caved in
and appointed Duncan. Surely that makes him feel a teensy bit like
‘I’ve never asked the question [of why I was given the role],’ he calmly
This sounds like a porkie, but the delivery is made with a straight bat.
‘I was asked to take the job and I took it. I’d like to think the
decision was based on a real evaluation of my capabilities in the role,’
It was Jim Kelly who hired Duncan just before he quit to set up his own
agency, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe. Duncan had spent all his formative
years at CDP, from his time as a junior account man to client services
director, and Kelly felt that his patient, even-handed approach through
the tempests that rocked the agency would be valuable to GGT. ‘My view
on Grant,’ he says, ‘is that he should have been made managing director
a year before he was.’
But we digress from the vision of GGT’s future. In keeping with his
egalitarian approach, Duncan freely admits that GGT’s new wunderplan is
not his. The ideas had been kicking around for more than a year, he
says. He merely made it happen.
In essence, it divides the agency into two. Creatives will now sit with
planners in a revamped semi-open-plan area, while the suits will sit
with production on another floor. This, Duncan says, never putting a
step wrong with the patter, will stimulate creativity and improve
efficiency. Work in progress at the agency will be fostered and
lubricated by a new breed of thought police, the process managers,
headed by an ex-army man, Chris Green.
But isn’t this yet another St Luke’s lookalike? Not at all, says the PR
machine. The only agencies that are going to come through the 90s are
those that change with the times etc, etc.
So is Duncan, despite his bland exterior, the man to take GGT through
the 90s? The people he works with say yes. Unstatesmanlike, perhaps, but
beneath his impenetrable public relations patina, he’s the kind of bloke
who can laugh and joke with an ordinary joe and still bond with
advertising’s big ‘characters’ without ruffling their feathers. So a
bonder then, a weaver of elements into a whole rather than a visionary.
If GGT wants that right now, then Duncan’s the man.
Paul Smith, executive creative director at Grey, perhaps sums up the way
many feel about Duncan. Smith worked with him for a number years at CDP
and was astonished to find that Duncan had made it to the top at GGT.
‘If you ask anyone who has worked with him, they wouldn’t have said he’d
have been head of anywhere,’ he says. ‘He is just too nice.’