CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/MARK EARLS - Punk rocker to lead planning department at Ogilvy. Mark Earls wants to mould O&M's planning back into shape, Jeremy White says

Rule one of doing a profile: find out the subject's hobbies and

interests. Normally you get the usual "I like theatre", "I love to

read", "time with the family".



When you ask Mark Earls to list his, you know it's going to be an

interesting interview when he states "oysters". It turns out that the

new planning director at Ogilvy & Mather has a family home in Brittany

complete with its own oyster beds - and he's hooked.



Wait, it gets better. Earls is also the lead singer in a ska/punk band,

Marky Mark and his Very Big Shorts (one of the members is a nuclear

physicist and another is a cobbler). "We're not terribly brilliant,"

Earls admits.



He manages to do all this and captain the modestly named Wandsworth Gods

Cricket Club - something he's done for the past ten years. Oh, and he's

just finished his first book, titled: The Death of Marketing: A Handbook

for the Creative Age.



Yet, between all this, he finds the time to be a planner as well.

Starting his career as a trainee at Grey Worldwide London in 1984, he

stayed two years before moving to Boase Massimi Pollit, then to CDP,

then on to Ammirati & Puris before climbing to the lofty height of board

planning director at Bates Dorland in 1995. In 1999, St Luke's poached

him to head planning alongside Phil Teer.



Sounds interesting, doesn't he? That's why Paul Simons, the chief

executive and chairman of O&M, hired him. "Personality plays a big part.

When we started looking, we looked at some of the best people around but

you get down to personalities," Simons says.



"He can be self-effacing and disarming in conversation," Simons

continues.



"Mark has got the rare ability to justify an intellectual viewpoint on a

business issue at the same time as coming across as a good bloke."



It seems that Earls is also not at all intimidated by the prospect of

giving O&M some direction in its planning leadership after a period of

churn. Janet Grimes, who was promoted to planning director in late 1999,

left in December 2000 to join a digital and interactive consultancy. She

ran the department day to day while Beth Barr - a former head of

planning at the London agency - was recalled from a stint as head of

planning for Europe, Africa and the Middle East from to be executive

planning director.



Barry, meanwhile, left the agency in July to join WPP-owned Coley Porter

Bell part-time.



So why did Earls leave St Luke's? "I joined to help write chapter two

and that was a rethink of the company and where it was going. It was a

really interesting challenge but we had completed it, I just thought

that after David (Abraham, one of the founders) left, I was never going

to get a better chance to do the book," he says.



Was Abraham's - now the general manager of Discovery Networks Europe -

departure behind his decision to leave? "It was another trigger, yes.

But I'm ambitious and I really wanted to do this book," he says.



Earls turned down O&M when he was first approached but changed his

mind.



"O&M is committed to doing something exciting," he says. But according

to Earls' previous comments in articles, O&M is the sort of agency that

commits the most sins.



For example, he says that most agencies have on average 2.5 creatives

per planner and that this is too low. O&M's ratio is even smaller so it

looks like it is a long way from being his ideal agency. "Oh,

absolutely," he admits. "I like challenges - there's no point doing it

otherwise. That's what makes it interesting."



So is he looking to try and mould O&M? "Yes. Lots of people doing other

jobs can contribute to the creative invention that agencies get paid

for. Really talented people are only being used at the moment in terms

of their ability to run projects - they can contribute more."



Earls feels that planners are not treated as they should be in

advertising and that's why there are now just as many outside

advertising as there are in. "Agencies don't resource planning properly.

But then this is hardly surprising considering that most boards are full

of people who are not planners. They just want someone to be blindingly

brilliant - and then go back to their box."



But Earls won't commit to increasing the O&M planning department. "The

first thing we have to do is get people working together more

creatively."



When the conversation turns to the future of planning, Earls gets

passionate.



"Planners know less and less about research and the analytic tools that

gave them the excuse to be at the table in the first place. This is

worrying. Somebody's got to be able to do this."



He calls this the rise of "Gonzo planning", where just hanging out and

being bright will somehow do. "Saying you don't like focus groups isn't

a good argument. You've got to be good at them and know where their

weaknesses and their strengths are," he says.



So it sounds like Simons has bagged a good candidate. However, John

Ward, the head of the consultancy The Emergency Ward, who worked with

Earls for three years when he was the deputy chairman at Bates, has some

words of warning: "I think he is a much better thinker and presenter

than he is a departmental manager - although I think he's very good at

being a departmental manager.



Don't hire him in a role that's going to involve him in ten hours of

administration a day. It's a waste of his talent."



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