Close-Up: RKCR/Y&R keeps the faith as founders depart

As a new management team steps up, what's in store for RKCR/Y&R in the post-Rainey Kelly era? Glen Mutel reports.

For many agencies, the loss of a founding partner signals the beginning of the end. For Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, it's more likely to signal a period of continuity.

Last week, it emerged that both MT Rainey and Jim Kelly would follow Robert Campbell's example by leaving the agency they helped to launch.

But no-one at Y&R is panicking; for if ever an agency had a responsible, gentle succession plan, then this is it.

James Murphy, Kelly's replacement as chief executive, has been with the agency for eight years. Since being earmarked for the job, he's spent the past year trying it out for size, under Kelly's guidance.

During that time, Murphy has been joined by the creative director, Ben Priest, from TBWA\London, and the planning director, David Golding, from WCRS.

The new management team will be able to draw on the experience of the remaining founding partner - now the chairman - Mark Roalfe.

"Mark is absolutely integral to the culture of the agency," William Eccleshare, the chairman and chief executive of Y&R/Wunderman EMEA, explains. "He's a creative beacon and will be a fabulous piece of continuity for the agency."

More crucially, Roalfe is still heavily involved in three of the agency's key accounts: Marks & Spencer, Land Rover and Virgin. "By training, I'm a creative, so it will be hard to leave it alone. I don't intend to walk away from any of the clients I look after. However, Ben does have room to operate. We work well together," he said.

With Rainey and Kelly staying put until April, it will be six months before the new team takes full charge. Few would question their credentials.

But Rainey and Kelly are hard acts to follow, and some sources are surprised that an experienced suit isn't being parachuted in to work alongside Murphy.

"I can't believe for a second that Sir Martin Sorrell (the chief executive of Y&R's parent, WPP) won't want someone senior in there," one WPP source asserts.

Eccleshare's response is emphatic. "Let Murphy fly and watch what he does," he says. "Murphy is one of those people who will, without question, flourish once he has the whole set of tools to himself."

Over the past year, the new team has become more and more involved with the day-to-day running of the agency, while Rainey and Kelly have increasingly taken a back seat. This is partly what persuaded Kelly it was time to leave.

"If I look at the new-business wins this year, I've only been involved in one of them," he explains. "On that level, I think I was beginning to be a bit surplus to requirements and I need to be busy."

Rainey and Kelly's departure will give the new team room to manoeuvre but some say this only partly explains their decision to leave.

The pair are said to have lost patience with the Y&R chairman and chief executive, Anne Fudge, whose management style isn't sitting well with every senior WPP network executive. Fudge is a former client whose first real brush with agency life came 18 months ago when she was named as head of the network. Some believe she has struggled to make the transition.

Over the past year, Fudge has been keen to impose brand unity throughout the network, with the launch of Y&R Brands. With three of the four partners gone, will the network rebrand RKCR/Y&R in its own image?

No, Eccleshare says. "Anne would accept that you want to use the local equity that you have. I think RKCR/Y&R has a distinct value in the London market beyond the value of the individual partners. I think we'd be mad to take the brand away."

One glance at RKCR/Y&R's client list supports Eccleshare's logic. Unlike its WPP stablemates, RKCR/Y&R's base consists largely of big-spending domestic clients, such as COI Communica-tions, Lloyds TSB, Marks & Spencer and News International. A sudden spate of Y&R global account wins would change this dynamic, but that doesn't look like it's happening soon.

But for the year to 31 July this year, RKCR/Y&R had billings of £186 million, making it the 14th-largest agency in the UK. It's unlikely the growth-hungry Sorrell will be content with this.

However, he can take heart from the fact that the agency has pulled in £26 million worth of extra billings this year, including Virgin Megastore. Meanwhile, the agency's retention record is excellent - it has only lost two accounts in the past three years.

As for RKCR/Y&R's immediate priorities, Murphy says: "We've just got to keep doing really good work for the clients that have been loyal partners and collaborators with the agency for so long. You can't ever be complacent."

Golding adds: "We need to make sure that the agency is solid and stable during this transition strategy. And we need to show that this is an advertising agency of 200 people and not just two."

Kelly adds: "The real challenge for them will be delegation. It's a hard skill, one I'm only just getting the hang of. They'll need to bring on people such as Tanya Livesey, Jo Bacon and Tony Harris. That process has to start again."

And as for Kelly himself, he may well have money in the bank, but he's very keen to get back into advertising. And if some WPP sources are to be believed, Sorrell may just have one last crack at persuading him and Rainey to stay.

MT RAINEY ON THE FUN, THE FINANCE AND OTHER 'F' WORDS

My time at RKCR/Y&R has been fantastic: fun, fiery, frenetic, financially fortuitous and most importantly, friendly. Even the finale is a love fest.

To quote my favourite Virgin ad: "When your life flashes in front of your eyes, make sure there's plenty to watch." Among the many memorable moments and memories of the past 11 years at RKCR/Y&R, a few really stand out:

Getting the global ad industry talking about the value and power of ideas with our "payment for ideas" philosophy, and then actually being paid for ideas!

Winning Virgin and then Virgin winning - again and again. Beating advertising royalty to win Marks & Spencer - and the rollercoaster ride that followed. Millertime - a genuine 360-degree innovation. Land Rover posters. The Times "under the skin" posters. Lil-lets - the quietest ads ever to build a brand. Loads of work we've done for nothing - anti-nuclear testing, Womankind, Breakthrough Breast Cancer.

Parties - we were brilliant at them. I remember (vaguely) Paris, Brighton, Dublin, the Margaret Street wrecking party, the Cobden Club and, to cap it all, our tenth anniversary at the In and Out Club. How very fitting.

Our diaspora - eccentrics or geniuses all. Richard Beesening; Andy Nairn; Phil Cockrell; Claire Selby; Helen Weavers; Graham Storey; Rupert Williams and Neil Goodlad.

Great clients who became great friends - too many to mention but, most vividly, Alison Copus, John Nicholson, Trish Evans and Helen Stevenson. Our very own Time Lord, Dennis Stevenson.

And, of course, the great team led by James Murphy who we will leave behind to uphold this legacy of winning against the odds, ideas above advertising and parties beyond compare.

JIM KELLY ON THE LIFEBOAT TEST AND OTHER MEMORIES

The "lifeboat test" for anyone considering an agency start-up is very straightforward: "Don't start an agency with anyone who you wouldn't get into a lifeboat with." I consider myself very fortunate that Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe passed this first, and probably most important, test with flying colours.

After that, it has all been a bit of a blur. And while it's probably not wise to sum up 11 years in the style of a Smash Hits "in-depth" interview, here goes anyway:

Favourite spots: "Grim Reaper" for Virgin Atlantic and "Ian Dury - grab life with both hands" for The Sunday Times. They both contain the same message, really.

Favourite print ad: Freelander "hippos", of course.

Lowest low: Losing the artbags on the way to the GM Astra pitch in Switzerland.

Highest high: Winning the Astra business after that setback.

Best quote: "I've seen them come and I've seen them go." Derek who runs Y&R's car park said this to me on my first morning at Greater London House. He's still there.

Honourable mentions: Alison Copus of Virgin Atlantic - you never forget your first client; Tim Birt of Osborne Clarke; the two Big Eds - Ed Vick and Ed Ney of Y&R, and Flo Hayes - our first receptionist, and still with us.

Most missed client: John Nicolson of Scottish & Newcastle - thank you for all the Grand Prix tickets.

Clients of the decade (well, our decade, certainly): all at Virgin and Times Newspapers - both companies encourage their people to back their own judgment about advertising. This is a priceless quality.

That's enough nostalgia. Remember: today's ad is always better than yesterday's but not as good as tomorrow's. God bless RKCR/Y&R and all those who continue to sail in her.

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