INTERNATIONAL: THE DECISION MAKERS/JOHN FARRELL - DMB&B’s American chief earns his place in the Hall of Fame - The US ad industry has just given a Brit one of its most prestigious accolades, Karen Yates discovers

In case we got the wrong guy, John Farrell’s office sent through a list of his achievements before the interview. In the 18 months he’s been in the US, it seems as if Farrell has improved the bottom line at DMB&B North America, reeled in far more business and swung a place in the American Advertising Federation’s prestigious Hall of Fame.

In case we got the wrong guy, John Farrell’s office sent through a

list of his achievements before the interview. In the 18 months he’s

been in the US, it seems as if Farrell has improved the bottom line at

DMB&B North America, reeled in far more business and swung a place in

the American Advertising Federation’s prestigious Hall of Fame.



So it’s interesting to note that he’s still irritated by that favourite

sales promotion term, ’shelf wobbler’, which he came across many times

during his stint at DMB&B’s sales promotion arm, IMP. ’Please, oh

pleeeeese don’t mention shelf wobbler,’ he pleaded at the end of our

chat. ’That joke’s at least five years old now ...’



Farrell still has the word ’integration’ running down his middle like

the word Brighton through a stick of rock. But he has also not forgotten

the snide remarks when he was promoted from his role as president of IMP

to replace the veteran ad pairing, Graham Hinton and Tony Douglas, as

the chairman of DMB&B’s UK operations four years ago.



When he left for the US two years later, even the die-hards had to

grudgingly admit that things had got better, and Farrell is not one to

let you forget that. He liberally sprinkles his talk with such phrases

as ’best ever back-to-back results’, ’improving the product’, ’gathering

the right team around you’ and, of course, ’integration’.



Yes, he loves the US, and he’s doing OK as the president of DMB&B North

America. Some - including Farrell himself - would go further. ’Every

business I’ve worked in has significantly improved its bottom line

performance,’ he declares, without a trace of modesty.



The point about Farrell’s boasts is that they are almost all true. In

his first year in the US, for example, DMB&B North America did achieve

its best results since the 80s, and 1998 is set to come in 20 per cent

higher. He has revived new business, not just from existing clients, but

also from new ones. He hints at, but can’t elaborate on, a much bigger

role in store within the MacManus group.



Farrell is the first Brit to take his place among the five or six

outstanding young achievers admitted each year to the Hall of Fame. So,

why had it gone to him? ’I’d like to think,’ he says, without pausing

for thought, ’that it’s a recognition by the advertising community that

DMB&B is beginning to do things very differently and is enjoying some

significant success as a result of recent changes.’



When he was installed by his American bosses as chairman of DMB&B’s UK

operations, he set about bringing together its four main units - the ad

agency, the Media Centre (now MediaVest), IMP and DMB&B Financial -

under one roof and one bottom line. His job, he says, is not much

different in the US. He was briefed to kick-start a solid, rather than

sparkling, performance. Because of geographical differences, he focused

on ’attitude integration’ rather than physical merger. Then there was

the communication integration.



’They are very interested in my communications background. The US, in

some ways, is behind the UK in the applications of integrated

communications,’ says Farrell. ’One of the things I’m really surprised

about - pleasantly so - is that clients and prospects place so much

value on international experience. There’s a much greater willingness

than I anticipated for wanting to hear about best practice.’



Farrell adds that having an English accent, rather than a New York

twang, is a positive benefit in some parts of the US and, as he talks of

his life in the States, you can tell he’s taken to it like a duck to

water.



For those interested in personal details, over the past 18 months,

Farrell has lost half a stone, moved house twice and become a father of

twins.



He also still bears a full head of hair and a serious expression, which

only occasionally breaks into a smile. He’s smiling now, though, when I

ask the obvious question of whether he likes his new role. ’Yeah,’ he

says, ’I love it.’



FACT FILE

1980 - Joins DMB&B’s sales promotion arm, IMP, as account executive

1986 - At 28 years old, becomes managing director of IMP

1989 - Chief executive of IMP group

1991 - President of IMP Europe and becomes youngest appointee to DMB&B’s

worldwide board of directors

1995 - Made chairman of the DMB&B UK group over the heads of the veteran

ad pairing, Tony Douglas and Graham Hinton

1997 - President of DMB&B North America

1998 - Joins the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Fame



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