CLOSE-UP: Newsmaker - Why JWT's new creative chief must satisfy regional clients

Has Craig Davis the bottle to improve JWT's creative clout?

Yet another Antipodean creative director is to make the long journey north of the equator to carve a place in London's advertising hub.

In Asia the Australia-born Craig Davis is a household name, a much-respected creative who has arguably been the lynchpin behind Saatchi & Saatchi's ascendancy in The Gunn Report on the most creative networks.

In the UK, however, he is an unknown who has just been appointed to the position of European creative chief at J. Walter Thompson. Like his fellow countrymen who have come before him, he arrives armed with charm and credentials.

But, in partnership with the worldwide president, Michael Maedel, will this be enough to elevate creative standards and make JWT a potent creative force?

Matt Eastwood - a fellow Antipodean and creative director at M&C Saatchi - knows Davis, a copywriter, well from when he was running his own Sydney-based agency, called Davis Green. Eastwood is a fan. He credits Davis with putting Saatchi & Saatchi Asia-Pacific on the map, building on the foundations laid down by his predecessor, David Droga.

"Craig is very driven and very creatively focused," Eastwood says. "Just as importantly he's a very good leader who people will listen to and respect. People want to follow him and trust him to lead them to better things. That's why he was the right person to take over from Droga."

In Singapore, Davis replaced Droga, now the worldwide executive creative director at Publicis, in 1999, but a year later he stepped up to the regional role in Hong Kong.

The network's creative reputation has fared well under his leadership.

It is ranked the number one creative network in the region, according to Campaign Brief Asia, who named Davis "advertising person of the year" for 2003.

The list of awards is long and illustrious. At Cannes last year the Cape Town office won gold for Guinness, while the Singapore shop picked up a gold for its work for the Navy.

Meanwhile, Davis' own work has earned him recognition at D&AD and Cannes, where, over the years, he has collected seven Lions for Sony, Toyota and Procter & Gamble, among others.

But although Davis, 42, shies away from the spotlight, he is no shrinking violet. He's known as a straight talker with a reputation for getting what he wants.

He says: "The job isn't about me and which awards I have got my name on. It's about the creative output of the region and getting better work out of each office so the collective firepower of the network is improved."

His departure is a blow for Saatchis, according to Bob Isherwood, the network's worldwide creative director. "There is no glossing over the fact we are sad to lose Craig," he says. "He has played a big part in getting us to Asia's number one creative network. He's an inspirational leader and with him and Dave Droga we've had two peak performers in the regional role."

Indeed, had he opted to stay, Davis would have been the most likely successor to Isherwood.

Droga, his long-time friend, denies there were attempts to push Isherwood out, but after more than five years in Asia believes Davis needed to move on to the next level.

"There are only so many jobs you can take in Asia," Droga explains. "There was nowhere else for him to go. If JWT genuinely wants someone to bring it together on a collective mission, then Craig is the man. He's a very hands-on guy who leads by example. He has got a great eye and has this personality that attracts people to him."

The challenge at JWT is to leverage its creative profile in the EMEA region, an area that spans 48 countries and 56 offices.

In the absence of a global creative head, Davis and Maedel are charged with moving the agency forward together. Although Davis describes it as a "partnership", he will report in to the worldwide president, as do the chief executives from each office.

But in his capacity as European creative chief, Davis will collaborate with the executive creative directors, with accountablity for the creative output.

Davis refuses to get hung up on structure and the reporting process.

"It's not about who reports to who, it's about the quality of the work," he says.

Although the agency has a reputation for successfully managing substantial clients, Davis joins at a time when creatively it is under pressure to deliver the goods on regional accounts. JWT's WPP parent is attempting to defend, and build on, its share of Vodafone's global billings - for which it has to fight the creatively led Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam.

The network is also under a lot of pressure to deliver on Smirnoff, in particular its Ice variant. The need has intensified since Smirnoff's Diageo parent recently demonstrated its willingness to review by moving the global Bailey's account out of JWT and into Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

With last summer's appointment of Nick Bell as the executive creative director in London and the hiring of Davis, the message is clear: JWT is looking to invest in its creative and raise its game.

Although Davis is reluctant to assess JWT's output, he offers: "If I treat Europe with a broad brush, then there is not a lot of work shining through if you look at award shows such as Cannes.

"There is a lot of improvement that can be made, but there are a lot of good clients there, some fantastic brands and excellent people. Coupled with that there is a real desire to improve the work."

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