Feature

Has JWT finally found an heir to King's throne?

Guy Murphy aims to recreate the network's planning heyday under the iconic Stephen King. It's a huge ask.

Ask any planner for their all-time top three strategists and most will include Stephen King somewhere on the list. Ask any planner who has worked at JWT, and he'll be sitting on top.

King worked at the agency from the late 50s to the late 70s and is credited with inventing modern- day planning and instilling a strategic heritage at JWT that was so strong it endured for decades.

One former strategist at the company says: "One of the reasons clients went to and stayed at JWT was because the planners were so good. We produced ads that worked and the clients trusted us."

It is in to this highly lauded but greatly diminished heritage that Guy Murphy, the former deputy chairman at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, steps with admirable confidence to take up the position of global planning director for the network.

Murphy completes a network management trio, joining the chief creative officer, Craig Davis, and the chairman and chief executive, Bob Jeffrey - who have nothing but praise for him.

Davis says: "I've spent a lot of time with him and our chemistry is good. We get on intellectually and at a human level. He's wickedly bright and committed to the role of planning in creating interesting work. Thinking and the creative product are at the beginning and end of every sentence with him."

However, the new boy will have to work hard developing this chemistry if JWT insiders are to be believed. There is a perception within the agency that planning is not particularly high on Davis and Jeffrey's agenda, and anyone who disagrees with their ideas finds it difficult to get ahead and make any sort of effective changes.

One insider says: "The fact that Craig and Bob have only just decided that a planner's mind would be useful in a triumvirate, gives some indication of their views on the discipline. There is a problem in the network because there is a protection culture and no cohesion, meaning it works like a bunch of agencies and not a network."

Another source says that the pair's attitude to planning has systematically eroded the culture that King did so much to create.

"It's a demoralised planning community. Murphy will have a massive task bringing it all together. He does have the skill to do it though, if he's allowed to do his job, which I hope he is," the source says.

Davis refutes this claim, however, saying: "All disciplines need strong management, and our lack of planning leadership may have been derogatory to the network, but we haven't been negative by design."

All three senior managers say that planners from around the network have been in touch with them praising the appointment and showing their relief that someone has been brought into the role.

Jeffrey adds: "From a global point of view, it's been a missing piece in the network. We are desperately in need of an overarching vision of what planning is in the 21st century. We need more in the practice of planning."

Some believe that the appointment has been motivated by pressure from JWT's global Vodafone client. JWT shares Vodafone's account with BBH; in poaching Murphy, it has improved its strategic credentials with talent from an agency favoured by Vodafone.

Both Jeffrey and Murphy see the resurrection of the cohesive planning ethos of JWT as the main thrust of Murphy's responsibilities when he starts the role in January.

"His biggest challenge will be bringing JWT planners together. There is great planning talent without a great sense of planning community," Jeffrey says. "Because of the size of the business, we've done a good job at managing sizeable clients, but haven't been very good at building an agency culture."

Murphy adds: "I have found out already that there is a drive among the planners at JWT to have more cohesion across the world."

To do this, he will need to build a number of strong relationships with the disillusioned planners as quickly as possible.

His colleague and compatriot at BBH, Charlie Rudd, has no doubt that he has the skills to achieve this. "He's been part of planning aristocracy at BBH that has been successful by being brilliant minds, but are personable people," Rudd says.

As well as bringing together all the offices in the network, he will also need to pay close attention to London. One former JWT employee says: "His relationship with Nick Bell (the executive creative director in London) will be vital. If he can get on with Nick, he will bring credibility and strength to the office."

However, the management says that this is not the case and that no offices in the network will take preference. "We had a lot of momentum in London, but in the past year we've had some setbacks. But I'm really confident in Alison [Burns, the JWT London chief executive] and her team," Jeffrey says. "Guy and Craig don't need to 'deal with' the London office."

Murphy adds: "The new team in London is settling and getting on with their jobs. I'm not being employed to work on that office, my focus will be on the network."

This may be a tall order for someone who has been entrenched in the local BBH culture for the past 16 years. However, the ever-ambitious Murphy doesn't see it like that.

"I'm looking for the challenge. I don't want to move into the same role as I had at BBH but in another business. I'm not going to assume that what's right at BBH is going to be right here. I don't want to arrive with a point of view and enforce it."

Gary Savage, the head of operations for Audi, an account that Murphy has worked on for four years, adds: "The fun of working with Guy was that it was always a challenge, and this will be a huge benefit for him in the new role - he loves to challenge himself and others, and I think the JWT planning departments will respect this."

Murphy also has a huge wealth of experience to draw on from his time working in both Europe and Asia for BBH.

"It was an incredible bit of learning - I'd be half the planner I am today if I hadn't done it," he says.

"It's easy to become London-centric, but Asia taught me how wrong this is. Asia's influence on business is going to be so important in the next few years - its youth is developing so quickly, we need to use this experience."

Murphy clearly has a huge task in front of him and it will be imperative that he not only forms strong relationships with the head planners from the network, but also with Jeffrey and Davis. The fact he thrives on this kind of challenge means he may well be able to restore the pride and belief in the planning heritage created by one of his all-time heroes, Stephen King.

THE LOWDOWN
Age 42
Lives: London
Family: Married, two children
Favourite ad: Volkswagen "lemon"
Describe yourself in three words: Determined, down to earth, bloke
Greatest extravagance: Season tickets at the Emirates Stadium
Most admired agency: Something between BBH and JWT
Living person you most admire: Thierry Henry
Motto: Illegitimis nil carborundum.

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