CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/JOHN HUNT - The South African who plans to bolster TBWA's global clout

John Hunt's first task is to boost the New York office's output, Mark Sweney says.

"A farmer makes a plan." That is the one kernel of advice that Tony Granger, Saatchi & Saatchi London's new executive creative director, would give his long-time friend and old boss John Hunt on his ascension to the New York hotseat as the worldwide creative director at TBWA/Worldwide.

Granger, who worked for his countryman Hunt for 14 years at TBWA/Hunt Lascaris, used the old South African saying, to some effect, as his motto when he was brought in to turn around the creative fortunes of Bozell/New York.

The saying sums up the pioneering, entrepreneurial spirit of South Africans: that there is always a way to succeed, the spirit of which Hunt will be aiming to inject into TBWA's office in the Big Apple. Because make no mistake, despite Hunt's global remit, this move is very much a New York story.

"New York has not been up to the standard we would like. There is no way you can have a strong network without a strong New York office," Jean-Marie Dru, the president and chief executive of TBWA/Worldwide, states.

He points out that Los Angeles has the heavyweight clients Nissan and Apple, Adidas is with San Francisco, but when he talks of New York, with Absolut and Nivea, he is clearly not satisfied.

"We have to grow the office and get more global clients. New York should be leading on the new-business front," Dru says.

Trevor Beattie, the chairman and creative director of TBWA/London, can see the wisdom of bringing in someone from outside the fold to provide fresh perspective.

"Hunt's work is very African in that it reflects local culture brilliantly.

A lot of the time London and New York miss that," he says. "One reason someone like Droga (Saatchis' departing creative head) did so well in London is because an alien can often see key things we might take for granted. John has refused to become a corporate man and is a very original thinker. He is anti established advertising which is a good thing for creativity."

Hunt is clear it is the creative bar that must be raised in order to fulfil Dru's aim of winning new business. "I'm going to try to give New York more gravitas, it needs a higher profile and that means more high quality creative work," he says.

However, he will also be responsible for building on the agency's already good reputation for strong cross-border advertising. "A particular aim will be to improve global campaigns, that is how most networks are judged. I want to take learnings from TBWA/Hunt Lascaris to accelerate creative growth. Every network has one or two good offices. Part of my job is to work out how to make that ten or 20."

He makes it clear, however, that he is not the creative director of the New York office. In fact, his first task, which he says is very close to being finalised, is to fill that role.

Hunt will work with Lee Clow, the chairman and chief creative officer of TBWA, and San Francisco-based Chuck McBride, the creative director of TBWA/Chiat/Day North America, to cover the US operation.

The appointment of a third US-based creative heavyweight shows TBWA's commitment to creativity at the hub of the global ad market.

Clow has been overseeing the New York office, but Hunt's appointment is not an undermining of his powerbase within the company. Clow is based in Los Angeles and it was simply Dru's perception that the East Coast office needed its own heavyweight.

On paper Hunt will report to Clow, but in reality the hierarchy is much more flat and autonomous.

"Between Los Angeles and San Francisco we have a potent West Coast. I have been moved up a notch and am going to get some help as our main offices all need very senior creative oversight," Clow says. "This does not mean a heavy-handed structure; no-one will be watching over Trevor's shoulder every day. John and I want to bring consistency to world brands."

Hunt has had great success building up one of the best agencies in South Africa since its launch in 1983. Great work for BMW and an election campaign for Nelson Mandela and the ANC won repeated plaudits and testify to his ability to build effective creative businesses. Now he has to replicate that on a world scale.

"He has been running three offices in South Africa, now he is being asked to run the world as creative director," Granger says. "South Africans are quick and aggressive and the US can be very corporate. The tendency, because of the huge budgets involved, is to research the hell out of an idea and make it bullet proof before shooting and that can turn into mediocre advertising. John has the ability to turn that around."

Hunt, 48, will relocate along with his wife, their two youngest children, and a fair chunk of his African art collection, which he began amassing 20 years ago, "long before it became fashionable".

Hunt knows that to make the job work he has to throw himself into New York (although he is not selling his much-loved house in Johannesburg). "It has to be a real move or I will have a split personality. But we will go back often - we want the best of both worlds."

Which is what Dru wants of Hunt - to bring a mix of the best of his New World thinking to Old World advertising and rekindle one of TBWA's most important offices.

The appointment should serve to enhance TBWA's reputation as one of the best creative networks.

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