CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKERS - Price and Campbell complete McCann dream team

McCann is counting on the trio to supply the stability it badly needs.

Whichever way you look at it, McCann-Erickson is an advertising agency with problems: it has got a poor creative reputation; it has a high turnover of senior staff; it is embroiled in an accounting scandal and now the long-awaited client exodus has begun.

Fortunately, the cavalry has arrived. The new UK and Ireland chairman and president EMEA, Rupert Howell, has had his feet under McCann's table for nearly a month and he'll soon be joined by a new creative head, Robert Campbell, and a new chief operating officer, Robin Price.

Howell says that his brief was to assemble a team of "superstars". In the Cannes stalwart Campbell, he has landed a creative with an extremely high profile, something the agency has lacked.

Price has worked with Howell for 15 years. The two founded Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury in 1987 and then collaborated on The Growth Organisation, Howell's ill-fated consultancy that closed before it could find a client.

With Price taking care of the agency's infrastructure, Howell and his UK chief executive, Chris Hunton, will be free to do what they're best at - looking after clients.

Price's appointment is an unsurprising and shrewd one. He has a history of working well with Howell and as a trusted lieutenant will keep an eye on McCann's now infamous books (although Howell is keen to emphasise Price is much more than a financial director).

McCann has always had a reputation for excellent client service and account handling. Yet despite this, advertisers seem to be losing patience with the agency - a situation that is much exacerbated by the unwelcome questions the Securities and Exchange Commission investigation has raised about McCann's integrity.

Last month, Somerfield ditched McCann for M&C Saatchi without a pitch.

Coca-Cola followed suit, handing its main brand to Mother after months of deliberation. Now three long-standing accounts -Bacardi Breezer, Unilever's Birds Eye and Glenfiddich - are under review.

McCann has put up a fight on the new-business front, bringing in international briefs from L'Oreal, Capital One, Xbox and Nikon, but its situation hasn't been helped by an unmanageable number of senior departures this year.

The accounting scandal led to the ousting of the network's chief, Jim Heakin, in February this year. His replacement, Interpublic's former chief executive, John Dooner, soon set about stamping his authority on Europe, dismissing Ben Langdon, McCann's Heakin-appointed regional director, in June.

Langdon himself had done a fair bit of dismissing in the run-up to his own demise. Tamara Ingram, the UK chief executive, was fired in January and most of her senior appointments were subsequently ousted. The chief strategic officer, Paul Twivy, and Universal McCann's regional director, Brian Jacobs, were also shown the door.

The arrival of Howell, Campbell and Price will give the agency the stability it desperately needs - although McCann's new dream team might lack a senior planner, Howell is not convinced that this is an area that needs reinforcement, so it looks like the agency's two-year-long reshuffle is finally over.

Now it's time for the recovery and, in Howell, McCann has one of the great client men at its helm. He's quick-witted, knowledgeable and eloquent, if a little too fond of the sound of his own voice. Those ignorant of his professional successes might well find his insistence upon explaining everything in the context of his own achievements somewhat arrogant, but then Howell is, and always has been, a man who strongly believes in his own ability. "I fucking invented media strategy," he says in an excited moment during this interview.

"He's a winner," Price says. "And a born leader. But he also absolutely believes in the power of the team. He knows that he needs to get the right people with the right skills around him."

In taking the McCann job, Howell has performed a volte-face. He has been highly critical of network agencies in the past and in a Campaign Essay in May, entitled "The Not So Super Groups", he wrote: "To my mind, the majors are at a point of change and facing not so much the threat of new competition but, more serious and life-threatening, of losing relevance."

Four months and one aborted venture later, Howell's views may have softened slightly, but he still admits to lingering doubts about the future of the big networks. "If you look at most of the big agencies in London, they're all in crisis," he points out. "The really interesting thing is that there is no multinational agency setting the agenda."

After a period in the cold as Chime's joint chief executive, followed by the aborted consultancy, Howell is returning to what he's good at.

One of the first steps he will take is to forge a closer working relationship with Universal McCann, the media agency that has been left disenfranchised by the bruising treatment it's received at the hands of previous McCann regimes.

Second, there's the small matter of McCann's poor creative reputation.

There's no doubt that the appointment of Campbell is a coup for Howell.

In the ten years since he founded Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe, Campbell has earned himself a strong creative reputation and a profile that has put him into the consciousness of the client world. He's been around the block and has the maturity to understand what he is taking on at McCann.

His experience of Young & Rubicam means he is not some young Turk who will turn up and expect to turn McCann into a hotshop overnight.

Campbell is also a good foil for Howell. His laid-back, thoughtful manner counters Howell's energy and intensity well and the two seem impressively at ease with each other's style.

Is the seemingly unflappable Campbell daunted by the huge task that awaits him? "McCann's creative product is much better than people think - it just hasn't packaged the place properly. Every agency makes mistakes, it's just most have the good sense not to put them on their showreel," he answers.

Campbell replaces McCann's executive creative director, Luke White, who will lose the executive from his title after two years, but stay on as creative director. "Luke has done a great job and he is a good day-to-day creative head," Howell explains. "But he's not a talisman for clients."

Both Campbell and Howell agree that White's contribution has been largely unsung and maintain that McCann occasionally reached impressive heights under his stewardship. But they also agree the agency's bad creative moments are far worse than they should be and that it needs to raise the floor instead of the ceiling.

"My motto has always been six out of ten or above," Campbell explains. "We need to try to get everything to be of a certain quality.

This will help us improve the agency's profile and will get production companies believing in us so the best directors want to work with us.

Almost 70 per cent of McCann's work is TV, so this is vital.

"But the most important thing this agency can do is to change its process. It should have a team process rather than a linear one - a process that involves clients more and gets the creative people involved earlier."

There is no doubt that Howell and Campbell will help the agency raise its profile. But, to resort to an analogy, if they are like the visible body of a swan, then Price is like the legs paddling below the surface, ensuring the whole thing keeps moving smoothly.

Price's job will be to ensure that McCann restores its reputation as a business. In close co-operation with the chief financial officer, Craig Denyer, and the head of human resources, Barry Richards, he must ensure the agency's legal, financial, IT and personnel structures are effective.

"It looks like a big and interesting challenge," Price says. "I am fantastically proud of HHCL but now it's time for Rupert and I to do it on a bigger stage."

QUESTIONNAIRE

AGE

Howell - 46

Price - 47

Campbell - 45

LIVES

Howell - Surrey

Price - Chiswick

Campbell - Notting Hill

FAMILY

Howell - Claire (wife), Amy (daughter), Dominic (son)

Price - Jane (wife), Joe (son, 13), Ellie (daughter, 11)

Campbell - Single and loving it

FAVOURITE AD

Howell - "Hand-built by robots", Fiat Strada

Price - HHCL & Partners' Marie Claire launch ad

Campbell - "Surfer", Guinness

DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN THREE WORDS

Howell - Enthusiastic, optimistic, competitive

Price - Tall, commercial, team-player

Campbell - Frightened, manipulative, greedy

Topics

Become a member of Campaign from just £45 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk ,plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content

Share

1 Why creative people have lost their way

What better way to kick off the inaugural issue of Campaign's monthly print offering than with another think piece on the current failings of our industry, written by an embittered, pretentious creative who misses "the way things used to be"...

Share

1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).