Close-Up: Newsmaker - Where will AMV new guard take Baulk's legacy?

Michael Baulk departs AMV having reshaped the network and kept it on course through the past 20 years, John Tylee writes.

A lot of colour and energy will depart Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO with Michael Baulk. Not just his trademark red Ferrari (the "cry-for-help car", as amused colleagues dub it) or his habit of taking the stairs rather than the lift to his sixth-floor office.

Disappearing also will be some ironies that you cannot help smiling at.

Such as the fact that someone who has played a major role in shaping the UK's biggest agency group as an all-round communications specialist can barely use a mobile phone.

The anomalies do not end there. The retiring group chairman and chief executive is a salesman by instinct but a champion of creativity; an agency manager whose fame and reputation belie the fact that he has never had his name above the door; a "street fighter" who logic suggests should have been totally at odds with the AMV culture.

At the end of the day, however, Baulk's charm, punctilious manner and agile mind have always seen him through and brought him much affection and respect along the way.

"He's the man you wanted to be in the trench with," Jeremy Miles, a former AMV board director and now the chairman of Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, says. "He's confident, resilient and always realistically optimistic."

"He is the consummate client-focused adman," Helen Alexander, the chief executive of the Economist Group, a long-term AMV client, says. "He knows how to get the best out of everybody and is very good at seeing through the issues to get to the work."

Baulk has held the tiller firm during AMV's journey through ownership change and management transition. And it is his protege, Andrew Robertson, who now commands the BBDO network.

Some suggest the outward flamboyancy masks a private inner man. "There is a lot of depth to Michael but he doesn't always show it," a former AMV senior executive says. "He'll show you what he wants you to see."

Baulk's time at AMV, which he joined in 1986, has been the high summer of a career that began in the 60s at Leo Burnett and flowered at Ogilvy & Mather, where he rose to managing director under Peter Warren's chairmanship.

His arrival at AMV marked a step change in its evolution. Although the agency founded by David Abbott, Peter Mead and Adrian Vickers was doing well (it was ranked 11th and its 1985 public offering was 30 times oversubscribed), it was held back by lack of access to an international network.

"We were at a stage in our ascent of the mountain where you have to find a ledge and get your strength back," Abbott recalls.

Some at AMV suggest Baulk's arrival at the agency was a culture shock.

"The atmosphere was quite laid-back at the time because the creative work always came first," an ex-AMV manager recalls. "Michael was more financially focused and brought a new discipline to the place."

Baulk played a major role in extending AMV beyond its core mainstream advertising business. "Without Michael, AMV would not have become the strong and diversified group it has," Julian Ingram, who joined AMV within two weeks of Baulk's arrival and now runs McCann Erickson's pan-European Mastercard business, says.

Now, as he steps down at the age of 62, Baulk leaves a group whose lead agency still sits comfortably atop the rankings, but with some serious issues to confront.

Robertson's sudden departure for the US five years ago and the MCBD breakaway have not permitted the smooth management succession Baulk would have liked.

Nor has there been enough new blood to keep the agency energised, some industry-watchers believe. What is more, AMV had to pour most of its efforts last year into defying the odds to retain £100 million-worth of Sainsbury's and BT business.

"It sounds harsh, but it might have done AMV good to have lost one of these pitches," one consultant argues. "Obviously it's doing something right, but you feel as though the place is treading water and that it will just keep doing what it needs to do."

Baulk's successor, Cilla Snowball, will play an important role go-ing forward. In addition to AMV, she oversees Proximity and Redwood, which is arguably from where the company will most easily derive future growth.

Meanwhile, the ad agency, under the remit of its chief executive, Farah Ramzan Golant, will find expansion difficult. The agency's size and the breadth of its business limit the number of domestic pitches for which it can be considered.

Snowball is cast in the Baulk mould, while Ramzan Golant is more of a Robertson protege. She brings a hunger for success and more ruthless focus to the role, which is already helping turn AMV into a sharper operation than it was two years ago.

AMV had an uneasy entry into the new millennium and some of the changes that have been effected since then to make it leaner and keener, including redundancies, have pained Baulk. His departure now will accelerate the rate at which it moves away from the culture that made it great, but it will also facilitate its transition into a future-facing agency.

BAULK'S TOP TEN TIPS FOR RUNNING AN AGENCY

1. Hire the best people you can and reward them with the challenges of responsibility and accountability. Let them know you trust them to do their job and give them room to grow.

2. Remember that we have to captivate and influence people in the few moments they allow us. It was never easy and it's now more difficult than ever. Attracting a disproportionate share of rare souls who can do this is your first priority. Keeping them is your second.

3. Draw inspiration from the noisy, cluttered world of contemporary culture. Read, go to the movies, take cookery lessons, study pilates, travel, write a radio play, paint. Stay in touch. Our business is problem-solving and the broader your knowledge base, the more likely you are to come up with a lateral solution.

4. If you can't already name your successor, you aren't doing your job properly. Don't put it off. Make it a priority. Plan for it, test market candidates, groom and apprentice your shortlist and always identify your successor before it becomes too late.

5. Size - bigness for its own sake - has never been a sustainable strategy in our business. All successful agencies put the best above biggest and creativity above everything.

6. Rewrite that presentation so that the argument is watertight. Send back that dodgy piece of repro. Rework the media schedule that looks very similar to the one you did last year. Change the stained carpet tile in the lift. There is passion in perfection.

7. Attract an eclectic mix of talented, likeable individuals with good taste and good manners. Advertising isn't a science, it's a craft. People who do it well tend to be team players: articulate, intuitive and great fun to be with.

8. Avoid prima donnas. They rarely attract other big talents and seldom keep them. Their obsession with self-interest corrodes the collegiate culture of good agencies and destroys trust.

9. Create a "we" not "me" culture. That is to say, an environment of collective responsibilities and shared goals. Agency people respond much better to sentences that begin with "we" rather than "I".

10. Have the good sense and the good grace to know when your agency needs fresh energies and when you need fresh challenges. Ideally, step down when people are still asking "why is he leaving?" rather than "when is he leaving?".

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