CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/NEIL DAWSON - Planning supremo caught in an agency tug of love. Miles Calcraft's Dawson is preparing for his new role at TBWA

Jeremy Miles was his usual magnanimous self when discussing Neil

Dawson's shock departure to TBWA/London, in the role of executive

planning director last week. However, it's not difficult to imagine some

frustration behind his comment that he is "saddened to see him go".



"I'm sure Miles Calcraft is absolutely gutted to lose him," D'Arcy

Detroit's planning director, Mike Bentley, who worked with Dawson at

Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, says. "Every agency needs a planning director

like Neil."



Given that Dawson was himself a stakeholder in Miles Calcraft, its

founders might have expected to keep hold of his services more easily.

However, the chance to join the management of a larger agency appears to

have been too strong a temptation.



"There's two things you can aim for," Mark Wnek, Euro's executive

creative director, says.



"Either a personal stake in an agency or a chance to play on a huge

stage. Neil needs as big a stage as possible and his name wasn't above

the door at Miles Calcraft, which meant they weren't able to keep him

when an offer like this came along."



Dawson says that the name issue was never important to him at Miles

Calcraft, which suggests he was already moving towards the "huge stage"

described by his former boss. At the same time, though, he's keen to

emphasise his respect for Miles and company. "It was a difficult

decision and not one that I took lightly," he says. "Miles Calcraft is

absolutely fantastic and without a doubt the best of the startups. It

has all the ingredients that will lead to long-term success."



If the prospect of running an international-sized agency explains much

of TBWA's appeal to Dawson, then the fact that the approach came from a

former colleague, Garry Lace, probably sealed the deal. "They're a

formidable team," Bentley says of the duo's time on the Peugeot account

at Euro.



"They've got strong intuitions about each other and work really well

together."



Recently installed as the chief executive with a management line-up to

complete, Lace was in a good position to make the running with

Dawson.



"It's a dream hiring for me," he says. "Someone I know really well and

respect enormously but, more importantly, someone who is going to make a

massive contribution to our intellectual offering."



Five years ago it would have been hard to predict that Dawson would

become the focus of a tug of love between two of London's top agencies.

Back then, he was a well-respected market researcher with his own

company, Crucible Research, pondering a move to the agency side with

Euro. "I first met him when he was foisted on to me by a client who

suggested research," Bentley says. He was absolutely brilliant." So much

so, that Bentley claims that he himself joined Euro for the chance to

work with the pesky researcher again.



"He's had a nosebleed-like rise," Abbott Mead Vickers' board account

director Richard Schwab says of Dawson's development since then. "TBWA

is only his third job in advertising. It's not a bad rise up the ranks

from starting as a jobbing planner at Euro."



Some industry sources have pointed out that it's convenient to move to a

small startup, build a reputation quickly, and then jump to a bigger job

at a larger agency. However, Dawson's rise is better explained by his

natural talent and prodigious work rate, both testified to by former

colleagues.



"I think he's the most exciting strategic planner in our business

today," Wnek says. "I've never met a deeper thinker and harder worker.

After he talks to a client for ten minutes they'll trust him with their

lives and, more importantly, their brands."



"He's horribly good at new business," Bentley adds. "His nickname at

Euro was 'the nugget' because he always came up with the bit of

information that won the pitch."



Dawson's background in research might well have something to do with

this. "Research is over used and abused in this industry," he says of

his former profession. "My experience allows me to see through that and

to know when to use research and the right kind to use."



Dawson acknowledges the thrill of new business. "It's where everything

is distilled into a short period of time and is one of the most exciting

elements of the job," he says, but stresses that he is not moving to

TBWA simply to bolster the account list.



"The nature and size of the opportunity was just unmissable," he

explains.



"It's an opportunity to work as part of a management team involved with

developing the business, building the agency's strategic capability and

developing a strategy for the agency itself. That's fantastic for any

planner."



And Dawson isn't the only one confident of his prospects at TBWA.



"The prospect of Garry and Neil together is really quite frightening,"

Wnek says of his former charges. "Simon Clemmow and Johnny Hornby

leaving was a real blow to TBWA, but this is the way to make people

forget that.



I can't speak too highly of a team made up of those two and Trevor

Beattie. They are just about the best in our industry."



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