McCann London reaches for the hyperdrive

After a year of encouraging growth, the management of McCann London, led by Alex Lubar, are poised to jump on the accelerator, Sonoo Singh writes.

McCann London reaches for the hyperdrive

Alex Lubar is not yet a name that is familiar to everyone in London adland. When he was announced as the new chief executive of McCann London, the focus was not so much about his arrival but on the  departure of his predecessor, Zaid Al-Zaidy. However, as Lubar completes his first year at the agency after 18 years in the US, he has certainly been catching the eye of his agency peers.

It is easy to see why. Lubar and his management quartet make an appealing team: Lubar is rapid-talking in a style reminiscent of Hugh Laurie and his transatlantic accent;  co-presidents and chief creative officers Rob Doubal and Lolly Thomson are a witty double act who never miss a beat; and softly spoken head of strategy Theo Izzard-Brown is never less than punchy. 

A fast-rising star, Lubar took up the challenge of leading McCann London after working in new business in New York for more than a decade. His brief? "To take the London agency into hyperdrive," he says. 

Through a combination of new-business wins and organic growth, the agency has built a strong roster of British heritage brands, including Bisto, Mr Kipling, Ambrosia and the Wimbledon Championships.  

"There is a 50/50 gender split across our agency, although it just so happens that right at the top we happen to be four guys"

Over a tray of Mr Kipling cakes, the team talks integration, creativity and a flexible, agile agency model. For Izzard-Brown, integration is best demonstrated in the cross-agency work with McCann Worldgroup and Interpublic partners on some big projects, including the much-awarded "Rise of the Tomb Raider: survival billboard" for Microsoft Xbox. For Doubal and Thomson, creativity is making diverse work happen – from "sad-vertising" with Bisto to "innovative" Momondo work alongside the Xbox activity. And the agile agency model is demonstrated through the tailored setups the team have devised for clients. 

But McCann London had already begun writing its new chapter before the arrival of Lubar, so how much "hyperdrive" is really needed? Pointing to his team, Lubar says: "These guys needed a growth partner and that is what I will do." 

Doubal and Thomson interject that a lack of growth is not the narrative that Lubar walked into: "The agency was like an Aga – slow to cook but then you know it is eventually cooked right. What we needed was someone to accelerate that." 

"Lubar sees himself as an outsider – married to a Mexican, with a French mother and an American father, he recognises the value of diversity within the agency"

When questioned on the agency’s diversity (after all, Lubar helms yet another management team comprising white men), Lubar answers unflinchingly: "There is a 50/50 gender split across our agency, although it just so happens that right at the top we happen to be four guys." 

Indeed, Lubar sees himself as an outsider – married to a Mexican, with a French mother and an American father, he recognises the value of diversity within the agency. Nonetheless, he admits to a "fear and anxiety" in working in London, where people don’t know him and might "ignore" him. So could that be his Achilles heel? 

His colleagues have no doubt he will make an impact in his current role. Chris Macdonald, president of McCann New York and former chief executive of McCann London, says: "Alex has arrived into the London village without any baggage – which is great. The fact he is relatively unknown is an advantage because he will bring freshness to the role. He has had a dramatic rise in his career and that is because he can galvanise a team and can surprise people around him with how strategic and creative he can be."

So was there ever a temptation to buy an independent shop and install a higher-profile team to announce the resurgence of McCann London? Apparently not, as McCann UK group chief executive Mark Lund explains: "Not every start-up is Adam & Eve. Plus, an acquisition implies that our own corporate culture is exhausted. Over the past few years, we have been building a story of renaissance here in London and also in New York, and in that context we were ready to bring in one of our own. Alex is a rising star. There is already a great buzz at our agency, it is creatively vibrant and he will boost our already healthy new-business pipeline." 

Lubar’s reputation as a new-business maestro is something that already precedes him but he has yet to turn into the quintessential new-business peacock, strutting his feathers. However, if McCann London’s star continues to rise, Lubar should announce his presence in London’s adland in iridescent colours very soon. 

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