"It’s easy to drown in a warm bath." Those were the cautionary words from one correspondent following my recent lament about the departure of the genial and collegiate Jamie Elliott from MullenLowe.
With his successor, the grittier Dale Gall, recently emerging victorious in the global Western Union media pitch following a period when MullenLowe didn’t really move its dial that far at all, then perhaps there’s something in this.
Alistair MacCallum, the popular chief executive of the now-defunct M2M, might also be reflecting on this following Omnicom Media Group’s decision to pull the plug on the UK shop after 13 years of existence. M2M has had a really rotten run of luck on the new business front in recent times – when Paddy Power, for which it did some really ground breaking work, and Lidl exited its existence was put into question. The departure of its founding client Estée Lauder to sister agency Manning Gottlieb OMD was the final nail in the coffin.
None of this should necessarily be laid at MacCallum’s feet – a more decent, committed and hard-working person you’d struggle to find. A man of immense principle – he famously mulled over standing as a Labour candidate – he just seems to have inherited something that had run out of road. Maybe the "Made to Measure" positioning of M2M’s founder Peter Thomson no longer seemed relevant.
Thomson, who later went on to run M2M globally, would have been familiar with the dangers of drowning – a former Jack Tar, he built M2M into a potent force through his energy. At its pomp it had clients that included Kia, Hewlett Packard, Yakult and Omega as well as Estée Lauder (later won across multiple markets) and punched way above its weight. At the time Thomson identified and successfully exploited a niche for clients who wanted a personal and bespoke service but with the clout of Omnicom behind it – although it must have rankled that he never managed to get any equity in the outfit.
OMG has promised to redeploy staff from M2M to its other networks and the link between its closure and the recent decision to open a new UK agency – Hearts & Science – under the stewardship of the smart Frances Ralston-Good is reflective perhaps of the shift in what marketers want from their media agencies. Hearts & Science promises to offer a data-driven approach rooted in CRM and customer insight rather than the more service-based approach offered by M2M.
With Goodstuff Communications, the small agency with a famously big heart, forming an alliance with Creston in order to get access to its insight and consultancy business (and with Creston thereby gaining a clever media partner), the offer of a warm bath in exemplary and personalised client servicing is maybe no longer compelling enough.