CLOSE-UP - NEWSMAKER/TONY DOUGLAS: After the COI, a Lambeth walk into FCB challenge. The task of reviving FCB’s fortunes in Europe will not be easy. By Amanda Hall

Tony Douglas is heading back to adland. Two years in the unglamorous environs of the south London borough of Lambeth, home to the Central Office of Information, have proved quite enough to satisfy his curiosity about life on the outside. In October he is to trade in his job as chief executive of the COI, the government’s communications agency, and head back to the West End as the European chairman of FCB (Campaign, last week).

Tony Douglas is heading back to adland. Two years in the

unglamorous environs of the south London borough of Lambeth, home to the

Central Office of Information, have proved quite enough to satisfy his

curiosity about life on the outside. In October he is to trade in his

job as chief executive of the COI, the government’s communications

agency, and head back to the West End as the European chairman of FCB

(Campaign, last week).

To be fair, he says he was not looking to quit just yet. ’It wasn’t a

boredom issue,’ he says. ’Just too good a job to turn down.’

He originally intended to fulfil his three-year contract with the COI

but when the headhunters called with a big European job on offer, this

time, he says, he could not say no. He had been offered a similar job

ten years ago at DMB&B, where he was joint chairman with Graham Hinton

until 1995, but turned it down because his children were still young and

he did not want to spend his time dashing around Europe while they were

growing up.

They have now grown up. While he will not have to struggle with an

absent father’s guilt, he is certain to be doing his fair share of

European dashes from his home in Putney, south London, over the coming

months. If FCB’s American parent is serious about improving the

performance of its European operations, Douglas has a big job on his


In the US, FCB reigns supreme. It is the biggest domestic player with

billings last year of dollars 3.8 billion and high-spending clients like

AT&T, Coors Brewing and Nabisco on its client list. But in Europe, it is

an also-ran, ranked 18th with billings of just dollars 615 million and a

brand name that is little known and even less respected. Likewise in

London, FCB has slipped down the rankings to an unimpressive 26th place

in Campaign’s agency billings league for the year to June 1998.

One industry source says: ’When you ask people about FCB, what is

amazing is the absence of any opinion about it at all. It has absolutely

no profile.’

Douglas says candidly: ’To be 18th in Europe is not acceptable.’ Before

taking the job he flew to New York to meet Brendan Ryan, FCB’s global

chief executive. When he became worldwide head in 1996, Ryan moved the

company’s headquarters to New York from Chicago. ’Previously, the

mid-West blinkers were on when it came to Europe,’ Douglas says. ’But

Brendan is an internationalist. They are committed to making this work

and I am banking on that.’

Neither Douglas nor Harry Reid, FCB’s international president in London,

will say just how much money the Americans are prepared to invest in

making Europe work, but both anticipate going on the acquisition trail

in the UK and on the Continent. Reid is looking at buying agencies in

the UK, Italy, Holland and Belgium and wants to invest in direct

marketing expertise.

He is currently buying a direct marketing business in Paris and aims to

have direct operations in ten countries by the beginning of next


Given the dominance of FCB in the US - home of the international client

- it is staggering that the group’s European network has languished for

so long. Much of this is a hangover from what turned out to be the

disastrous agreement between FCB’s parent, True North Communications,

and Publicis, the French agency.

The two joined forces in 1989 to develop a global agency network but

never managed to agree on precisely what they wanted to achieve and how

they planned to achieve it. Publicis FCB, the European business that was

born from the agreement, became Europe’s largest agency network.

When the True North/Publicis alliance finally fell apart last year, FCB

bought back a handful of agencies from the venture and merged them with

Wilkens International, another European network recently acquired by

True North.

These are the businesses that Douglas will now chair - 35 agencies in 22

European markets. He is certainly not under any illusions that he can

engineer a quick turnaround: ’Six months ago, I would have said FCB was

an agency trying to untie itself from an unhappy marriage. It didn’t go

on the COI roster because a year ago it was in a mess.’

Those who know Douglas from his DMB&B days think that, provided he has

the backing from America, he is enough of a heavyweight to resuscitate

the FCB name in Europe and bring in multinational business. ’Tony was

trained on Unilever business,’ says Adrian Birchall, president of

MediaVest, the DMB&B media buying agency, who first met Douglas when the

two were starting their careers at Lintas in the late 60s. ’He worked

closely with P&G and Mars; these are companies that are not impressed

with flamboyance, they want advertising that is effective. Tony is a

solid character, very tenacious and very loyal. Graham (Hinton) was the

bubbly one with long hair. That’s not Tony.’

Douglas was a surprise appointment when he joined the COI. Having been

ignominiously ousted from DMB&B in 1995 by the agency’s American owners,

he disappeared from the advertising mainstream, took himself off to

Australia for a while and returned home to busy himself with consultancy

work for 18 months.

The COI had never appointed an advertising man before to take charge of

its pounds 120 million budget. And from the perspective of the

advertising world, a job in the civil service seemed a rather dull

choice for a man who at one time had been half of one of adland’s most

dynamic and successful partnerships.

But Douglas was the methodical, reliable half of the DMB&B


Bright, organised and a good leader, he left the charisma bit to


Talking to him about his new job at FCB, it would be easy to mistake him

for a management consultant rather than an advertising type.

He ran the COI as a business, he says, and seems genuinely mystified by

the idea that the outside world would assume his departure had something

to do with the change of government since he started the job. Given that

nine government departments out of 20 have changed their communication

chiefs since Labour took office, his surprise at being asked the

question makes him appear rather naive - especially for a communications

expert. ’Spin doctoring never affected me personally,’ he insists.

The COI has been restructured under Douglas in a bid for greater


He replaced its two-tier structure - a management board and an

operations board - with a single ’craft’ board where the six members

have responsibility for specific communications disciplines and

particular government departments.

He made 120 people redundant, reviewed the advertising agency roster and

created new rosters for public relations and integrated


The most high-profile campaign to emerge under his tenure is ’New Deal’,

which promotes the Government’s drive to encourage employers to take on

young unemployed people.

But Douglas does not seem to be interested in the workaday business of

campaigns; he wants to build a business. The two are, of course,

intertwined and no doubt he will be doing his fair share of client

pitches, especially among existing FCB clients in the US, but this is

the next, perhaps inevitable, step in an agency career that was cut off

too early last time. At the age of 53, it is likely to be his last big

career move.

If he makes a success of FCB Europe, he can expect to be hailed as the

hero who rebuilt the agency to a standing it has not known since the

70s, when it was one of the key players in the London market. But will

he miss the weightiness of government when he trades in his COI job next

month for life back in the business at an agency that counts Andrex

among its big-name clients?

’I spent many years selling toilet paper,’ he says. ’I’m sure I can do

it again.’


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