CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/MARTIN SMITH - Grey’s new chief keen to test unlikely partnership - Martin Smith is optimistic about becoming the head of Grey, Jade Garrett writes

Martin Smith, Grey’s new chief executive, and Tim Mellors, the agency’s executive creative director, are, on the face of it, a seriously unlikely couple.

Martin Smith, Grey’s new chief executive, and Tim Mellors, the

agency’s executive creative director, are, on the face of it, a

seriously unlikely couple.



It’s Wednesday morning in Mellors’ office and, while Smith is on his

best behaviour, Mellors is characteristically relaxed and informal.



This is Smith’s first interview since Campaign broke the news last week

that he has resigned from his position as deputy chairman at Bartle

Bogle Hegarty - his home for the past 18 years - and is taking over from

Steve Blamer as Grey’s top suit.



To be fair, you could sit Mellors next to just about anyone and it would

look like an odd match. As Mellors points out, if he’d asked people

about the suitability of his pairing with Blamer they would have said he

was ’bloody mad’.



Smith is just getting his head around the task before him so if he

displays little of Mellors’ easy-going bonhomie it is not hard to see

why.



After more than six months in the planning, last week Smith strode into

the office of Nigel Bogle, the BBH chief executive, to deliver his

news.



’It felt very strange,’ Smith admits. ’But I’m not B, B or H and neither

am I second management. Yes, I was part of the original team, but not a

name over the door. That’s always going to be an issue. At BBH you never

really feel like you’re doing it yourself until you break away.’



Bogle’s reaction was supportive. ’He said, ’that’s a big job, mate, well

done’,’ Smith says. ’He wasn’t surprised at my choice of agency. Why

should he be? The only agency doing better than BBH at new business at

the moment is Grey and its reputation for improvement is better than you

might think.’



Smith’s leaving date is yet to be confirmed but he is keen to get stuck

into his new job as soon as possible.



He says: ’I’m going to feel like the new boy at school. It is an unusual

situation when you work with a bunch of people for longer than the time

you spend at school and university. So it’s going to be odd, but

mentally I’m already at Grey.’



Grey has undergone an enormous period of change since the Mellors Reay

merger of December 1998. There is a very real sense from some of the

agency’s senior staff that, with Smith on board, things need to settle

down.



Mellors is confident that the agency is making a lot more money than it

was a year ago and that the new-business drive is up to speed.



The focus for Smith will be on continuing to improve the agency’s

creative offering and lifting its profile within the industry.



’It’s not enough to have Tim here,’ Barbara Noakes, a creative director

at Grey who used to work with Smith at BBH, says. ’The chief executive

and the creative director are the two most important people in any

agency. Martin will have learned a very important lesson at BBH which is

that no-one in the agency should be able to get a cigarette paper

between those two people.



They have to be totally committed to each other otherwise you get into

the most appalling agency politics.’



She adds: ’Martin needs to push some great work on to some of the more

difficult clients here. But if he wants to come in and start making lots

of changes, he’ll have people throwing themselves out of the

windows.’



Noakes is also confident that Smith and Mellors will complement each

other.



’Martin is a great supporter, very calm and good around volatile,

creative people.’



She agrees, however, that Smith and Blamer are different. ’It’s like

asking me to describe the difference between an Englishman and an

American,’ she says. ’Steve is this huge Californian who’s very

decisive. Martin is more contemplative and sensitive.’



Eliciting personal information from Smith is not easy. Yes, he’s

married.



Yes, he has children (two girls, aged 14 and 17) and he lives in Muswell

Hill.



He seems reluctant, though, to expand on some of the more interesting

episodes from his past. His time as a member of the Footlights comedy

posse during his Cambridge days, for example, or the fact that he gets a

mention in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (the author is a chum

from those days). Not to mention the TV scripts he has written for shows

such as Not the Nine O’Clock News.



Noakes says that Smith is not your typical adman - he is, she says, more

like the kind of bloke you wouldn’t mind having as a brother.



’He’s a real person. He is the kind of guy you’d be surprised to hear

had split up with his wife. He is not an obsessed adman.’



Smith makes the point early on in this interview that he’s not in a

position to talk about his brief in any great detail. For the time

being, he is happy to sit back and let Mellors get stuck into the more

meaty issues.



Mellors says: ’We have to make the new Grey more externally focused.

That will be the big difference between Steve and Martin. Steve isn’t in

this market, he never was and he never wanted to be. Martin and I are

known here.



’I had to experience a culture change here and I will be able to guide

Martin in that. I found it incredibly difficult to think the Grey way; I

can’t think the Grey way because it’s not in my nature. But I can think

the new Grey way.’



Jerry Judge, the president of Lowe Lintas & Partners Worldwide, worked

with Smith at BBH. He says Smith’s lack of input at this early stage

should not be construed as an indication that he will be easily dictated

to.



’Staff at BBH are very low key and Martin is a child of that. He has

absorbed the way they do things. But he has been entrusted with some key

responsibilities there and in his own way he is tough.’



Judge says he was ’rocked’ by Smith’s decision to leave BBH. ’I thought

Martin was a real lifer. But the appointment makes a lot of sense. Grey

is at an interesting stage of its history. It needs a solid team to make

it work and become more modern - where better to go for that than

BBH?’



Although Mellors’ and Smith’s paths crossed briefly in the late 70s at

Saatchi & Saatchi, and although they have mutual friends, they are only

starting to get to know each other now.



’There is a real relief that the succession issue has been resolved,’

Mellors says. ’If I’d bought my dad in I think there would have been a

sense of relief. There was a fear here that we’d have a money management

person come in. But that’s not where we need to go.’



It will be interesting to watch the relationship between the two

develop, to see where the balance of power rests and who will emerge as

the new face of Grey.



’Where I come from, at BBH, account management, planning and creative

are all represented by the three people whose names are above the door,’

Smith says. ’But you can’t do that at an agency as old as Grey.’



Mellors adds: ’The truth about chemistry is that you never really know

until the first day when you sit there and you start doing the

work.’



However, despite warnings from colleagues who hinted that Smith might be

past his sell-by date, Mellors is happy that, in theory, they are the

’perfect partnership’. ’Although we might be too nice, too compatible,’

he says.



’I don’t think there has ever been a creative director who has been

whole-heartedly easy to work with,’ Smith adds. ’If they were, they

wouldn’t be successful.’