CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/STEVE DUNN - Hard taskmaster looks to set O&M bang to rights. He’s difficult and couldn’t care less. Claire Cozens on the new O&M creative boss

Steve Dunn, Ogilvy & Mather’s new creative director, has a reputation for being difficult. So much so that one former colleague refuses to comment on his appointment on the grounds that if you can’t say anything nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all. He is about as far removed as it is possible to be from the amiable Patrick Collister, his predecessor at O&M, and the agency’s creatives will be more than a little concerned about the arrival of their new boss in the new year.

Steve Dunn, Ogilvy & Mather’s new creative director, has a

reputation for being difficult. So much so that one former colleague

refuses to comment on his appointment on the grounds that if you can’t

say anything nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all. He is about as far

removed as it is possible to be from the amiable Patrick Collister, his

predecessor at O&M, and the agency’s creatives will be more than a

little concerned about the arrival of their new boss in the new

year.



There is no doubt that Dunn will be a hard taskmaster. But the standards

he applies to himself are, if anything, tougher than those he applies to

those who work for him. There can’t be many people who could last a full

11 years partnering that most infamous of workaholic creatives, Tim

Delaney, and Dunn is as well known for his work ethic as for that

notorious ’difficult’ streak.



Dunn began his career in advertising in 1979 when Dave Trott, then

creative director of BMP DDB, took him on as an art director. He stayed

until 1982, when he moved to Leagas Delaney where he worked for 11 years

and moved up to become deputy creative director.



’It was a very intense existence, quite unlike anything I’ve seen in

other agencies,’ he says of his time there. ’I’ve got the northern work

ethic, but it was taken to extremes there, if you know what I mean. I

felt burnt out by the time I left, but working there accelerated my

learning curve.’



Dunn left Leagas Delaney in 1993 amid rumours of a rift with Delaney

(not true, he says, 11 years is long enough in any job), subsequently

moving to Portland, Oregon to join Wieden & Kennedy as creative director

on its flagship Nike account.



Moving to the US was, he says, the new challenge he was looking for,

even though he didn’t write a single headline. He returned to the UK

just a year later for personal reasons - living in Portland meant there

was nowhere nearby for his partner at the time to work - and joined Lowe

Howard-Spink, where he soon became head of art.



Dunn left Lowes two years ago when his three-year contract came to an

end and, while earning a living through freelance assignments, began

investigating setting up his own agency, something he had begun to do

before he joined Lowes.



’Things were in place but for various reasons it didn’t happen,’ he

says.



’For me it wasn’t a question of starting an agency per se, it was

starting a successful agency. I didn’t do it because it wasn’t 100 per

cent right. It’s a very delicate thing to construct, almost like

constructing the Beatles - you can’t just go out there and do it; it has

to happen.’



Dunn will not talk about his work, saying he hates looking back and

hopes that his best campaigns are around the corner. Although he is one

of the foremost art directors of his generation, with a body of work for

clients including Adidas, The Guardian, Nike, Nationwide and Harrods, he

eschews the glamorous side of the business - rarely attending awards

ceremonies and never keeping his awards statues.



But he does have a sense of humour and asked about his ’difficult’

reputation, he cracks a big smile and jokes: ’People said the Yorkshire

Ripper was difficult - he’d have said no, he just didn’t like people

very much.’



Dunn goes on to elaborate on his bad press. ’I think ’difficult’ is a

rather inexact word,’ he says, ’but maybe I would say that. I’ve got

that reputation because I have high standards. We work in a very

indulgent industry - at the end of the day, we’re getting paid a lot of

money for contemplation. You have to have a bit of respect for the great

lifestyle we lead. I think it’s just a sense that we should be achieving

great things and that requires application.’



Paul Simons, the chairman of O&M, says Dunn’s ’difficult’ streak was one

of the reasons for his appointment. Simons found several people who

fitted his main criteria: someone with a very strong creative track

record, who would understand Simons’ own agency background.



But the extra quality he saw in Dunn was his grit. ’I had him down as

this big, fearsome character, but I always thought he was very

talented,’ says Simons. ’When we met we just hit it off really well on a

human level.



I felt it was really important to have someone who would not be too

pliant, would not be too quick to concede a point. I think we need a bit

more unreasonableness.’



Dunn’s art directing talents will not be under-used in his new job - he

says he intends to be the kind of creative director who gets his hands

dirty. O&M is currently recruiting a copywriter to partner him and to be

a joint creative director of the agency.



’I think my role is as a coach - to be there for the team and try to

motivate them,’ Dunn says, adding: ’I like to get involved in the heart

of the problem. If I’m not doing it myself, then the next best thing is

to get involved in the creative process.’



Even with a partner - and even for a hard worker such as Dunn - creative

director of an agency the size of O&M is a pretty daunting job. But he

is enthusiastic about the task ahead.



’Yes, O&M is a big agency but it won’t come as a shock - I’ve been

running creative departments for a long time,’ he says. ’I’ve always

turned down titles in my career. When I was at Leagas Delaney Tim wanted

me to be joint creative director and there was talk of it becoming

Leagas Delaney Dunn. Running Nike at Wieden & Kennedy was a very big job

and at Lowes I was doing the job of a co-partner with Paul (Weinberger)

- I just didn’t have the title.



’I am joining an agency with a proven track record and great brand image

and my remit is to rejuvenate it, rather than change it. It’s the

opportunity to be part of a management team that’s new, and it’s the

start of something exciting.’



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