Maverick Palm-Jensen hopes to stir up McCann

Famed for his innovations, Matias Palm-Jensen hopes to totally revamp McCann Erickson's model, Anne Cassidy writes.

Matias Palm-Jensen wants more girls. In advertising, that is. "I've been hoping for more girls my whole life," he laughs. "It is one of my missions." He would even like to help create the first female-only network one day: "No Martin Sorrells. Just good girls at the top. Don't you see that coming?"

If the 51-year-old Swede ever puts his mind to it, it's a sure bet it will happen. Just last week, the same week he started in his new role as the chief innovation officer for McCann Europe, he launched a global photographic project, "One Day On Earth", backed by the likes of Desmond Tutu and Kofi Annan. It involves people from around the world photographing something in their everyday lives, all on the same day, with the photos then uploaded into a digital image bank accessible to everyone. The aim is to promote human understanding through photography.

"There are a lot of people that have good ideas. But they never do it. I've never had that barrier," he explains.

Palm-Jensen, the founder of the now-defunct agency Farfar, enthuses that he is "so happy" to start his new job. He looks it. He is positively beaming. It's his first week and he appears completely relaxed, joking around with staff as he walks around the McCann office. There's no doubting his extremely playful nature, but it belies an inner steel.

The Swede, one of the few creatives who can boast a PhD in law and economics, is said to thrive on creative tension and on having something to battle against. One advertising executive describes him as "super bright, a lot of fun" but "like Jose Mourinho, he needs to have enemies".

Rather fittingly, then, Palm-Jensen discusses his plans for McCann in true football manager style: "Before, maybe McCann was just happy to be in the Premier League. But now we want to win the Champions League. I've never done anything unless it's winning the Champions League."

His steeliness came to the fore last year when he left Farfar, which had been acquired by Aegis in 2005 as Isobar began to expand its network. Palm-Jensen says he was very disappointed with Isobar for not endorsing his expansion plans for the agency. He recalls: "I called a board meeting and I said 'this is my last day' - and everyone walked out the door." Isobar then closed the agency.

The father of three has spent much of his career railing against big corporate advertising networks. The irony that he is now a linchpin in one of the biggest and most corporate is not lost on him. He considered many options when he left Farfar a year ago, including joining independents like Wieden & Kennedy or Mother or launching another start-up under the name Rafraf (Farfar backwards). He had also talked to big networks, but it wasn't until he met the McCann Worldgroup chief executive, Nick Brien, that he really considered the prospect of joining one: "For the first time, I heard someone have exactly the same thoughts about what needs to be done. I saw it in his eyes. I said to my wife: 'This guy will really do it.'"

The final push was Linus Karlsson, his friend, taking up the role of chairman and chief creative officer. Palm-Jensen reports to Karlsson and Gustavo Martinez, the president of McCann Worldgroup Europe, which he jokes will make him a "lovechild", as Karlsson is Swedish and Martinez is Argentinian.

The fact that Palm-Jensen himself is half-Catalan and half-Swedish, makes him the perfect creative hybrid, he says.

He has taken to his lovechild moniker so much, he refers to his role at McCann as his "lovechild mission". It's more fun than "chief innovation officer for Europe". "There is something in the words 'innovation' and 'digital'

that is so boring," he says. Indeed, having a laugh and surprising people is important to Palm-Jensen, as evidenced by his e-mail address, which he has asked to be changed to lovechild@mccann.com.

Ultimately, though, Palm-Jensen's role, he says, is to change the business model at McCann to get closer to how people actually behave and to earn their attention. This, he explains, is what he was doing for ten years with Farfar.

What's more, before launching Farfar, he created Spiff Industries, a digital agency, in the mid-90s, that he says proved to the Swedish market that digital advertising was not about homepages, but advertising in a new way through social media.

He notes that to do this, McCann has to "upgrade". New additions, including a McCann London executive creative director, will be brought in. But Palm-Jensen also believes the people already at the agency are good enough, it's just that good creative work often doesn't leave the doors. "It's not even presented sometimes," he laments. "From what I've seen, there is much more of a model where we are pleased to work for a client and then we deliver what we think the client wants. I think that's dangerous. You can't deliver what you think the client wants. You have to deliver fantastic creative work."

There's little doubt that Palm-Jensen has always managed to inspire a loyal and talented band of followers. People continually ask him how he's managed to find so many talented people to work with him. But it's not about talent, he says, it's all about unlocking self-belief: "I've never hired a talented superstar. What I really believe in is that you have to give normal well-educated creatives the right tools. It's not about geniuses."

Palm-Jensen worked as a lawyer in the music industry before moving into the newly emerging digital world. He launched start-ups for the Swedish Metro International owner, Jan Stenbeck, and was at the forefront of the evolution of the internet, creating one of the first web portals in Europe in 1992. His prediction that digital would move into all of the other channels, when he was the president of the Cyber Lions jury at Cannes in 2006, was neatly borne out by Farfar's "world's biggest signpost" work for Nokia, which won eight Lions in five categories last year.

Martinez reckons that in Palm-Jensen, he has someone who will be a great stimulus for raising the creative bar at McCann, and that his entrepreneurial skills will strengthen McCann's transformation in Europe and globally.

However, many will question how a man who has spent his career thumbing his nose at industry convention and defiantly forging his own path will deal with the challenges of a mature network. Either way, what is certain is that the agency, and indeed the industry, is a more interesting place with Palm-Jensen in it.

PALM-JENSEN HIGHLIGHTS

1992: Founded one of the first European web portals, everyday.com

1996: Founded award-winning Swedish digital agency Spiff Industries

2000: Founded Farfar, with global clients including Diesel, Absolut, Milko and Nokia

2001: Farfar's innovative Milko "Music Machine" campaign wins Grand Prix at Cannes

2005: Aegis acquires Farfar

2007: Farfar's Diesel "Heidi's 15 MB of Fame" campaign wins Grand Prix at Cannes

2010: Palm-Jensen quits Farfar. The agency is closed by Isobar. Farfar's "world's biggest signpost" campaign for Nokia wins eight Cannes Lions.

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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).