The McGann Eight

Rupert Howell has hired his dream team to lead McCann Erickson London back to the top. But are they hungry enough, Claire Billings asks. Transforming the giant that is McCann Erickson London is a task from which most would shy away. Not Rupert Howell, who in the past 12 months has assembled a dream team of some of adland's most highly regarded talent as the first step in rebuilding one of the UK's biggest agencies.

It is a striking, eight-strong line-up and in terms of its scale and personality, it is about as uncharacteristic of a McCann management team as it gets. The fame of the assembled talent suggests that Howell has a salary budget able to trump even that of Garry Lace when he was given the job of turning Grey around.

Howell's first step was to sign long-time colleague and friend Robin Price, the finance expert who helped him found Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury in 1987. This hiring was followed with the appointment of Robert Campbell as the executive creative director.

On the creative side, Campbell has lured Frank Lieberman as his executive head of TV and Mark Reddy as the executive head of art, two highly acclaimed veterans with the kind of experience needed to turn around the agency's print and TV output.

The appointments of Damian O'Malley as the executive head of planning, Stephen Whyte as the chief executive and Christian Hinchcliffe as the marketing director complete the line-up.

Howell asserts: "If an agency has got great talent then clients respond to it and they encourage you, allow you and almost cajole you to do better work. If you have these three things and manage your process properly, you make money. Money is the result, not the purpose."

Campbell, meanwhile, has high hopes for the agency's creative output.

"We'd like to be as good as Bartle Bogle Hegarty," he states. "We're playing in the same area. We've got the hardware BBH would envy in terms of clients and the network."

He believes the agency's initial focus should be on global work, which will in turn solve McCann's domestic problems. "It's about the ability to deliver creatively and strategically - it's about ideas, not ads," he says. "It's obvious this is what we should be doing."

Since Howell joined a year ago, the agency has lost several lucrative clients; Norwich Union, Somerfield, Birds Eye frozen foods and Greene King. Also, Coca-Cola handed its main UK branding account to Mother and Bacardi asked agencies to present global creative ideas.

The new top team must act fast to reassure the remaining clients of McCann's competence. Long-term clients suffered no fewer than eight agency heads between 1985 and 1995, while the sacking of the chief executive Ben Langdon in 2003 created a sense of chaos at the agency.

Not only must the new team convince clients they are there to stay, they need to inspire confidence among its bruised staff of 280. "We now have to connect the rest of the agency with what we're doing," Campbell says. To achieve this, the agency has instigated a training and redevelopment programme, details of which are being closely guarded.

Lieberman, for his part, is rebuilding a skeletal TV department. Creative services, including traffic, were casualties of the recession era when the agency was led by Langdon.

O'Malley is tasked with restoring the planning department's confidence, which was shattered back in 1989 when the then creative director, Jerry Green, famously told Campaign that the department was "dead from the neck up".

"It's a ground-up rebuild of a dysfunctional agency," Campbell explains. "It will take one year to get it functional and two years to get it good."

Howell is characteristically bullish: "I inherited the best goddamn client list in the world," he says.

"McCann in London has been cosseted by this 28-strong global client base, which has protected it through the thick and thins, so it hasn't had to face the hard realities of the recent market," he adds.

As the lead agency in Europe, strengthening London is key to building the network across the region, which is of concern to Howell and Campbell, who are the president and the vice-president of EMEA respectively.

"To be the dominant global player, you've got to be number one in London, Japan and New York," Howell says. "We're already the number-one non-Japanese agency in Tokyo."

The team has worked hard to secure the Bendicks and Signet UK accounts and also to find a place on some domestic pitchlists, but there is a long way to go.

Howell is not known for hiding his achievements under a bushel, and there is an ominous sense of self-confidence among the newly assembled team.

The successful track records of most of its members, many of them very lucrative, could mean it is less hungry to prove itself than a group of people setting up for the first time.

RUPERT HOWELL

Job title: Chairman

Age: 47

Career high: Co-founding Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury, Campaign's Agency

of the Decade for the 90s

Career low: The Growth Organisation, the consultancy he set up in 2003

with Price and Piers Schmidt, which was aborted before it signed a

client

Most valued for: His persistent optimism, energy and integrity

Favourite ad: Fiat Strada "handbuilt by robots"

Favourite McCann ad: Cornetto "spank"

Most likely to be heard saying: "Where's my Campaign?"

ROBIN PRICE

Job title: Chief operating officer

Age: 48

Career high: HHCL

Career low: The Growth Organisation

Most valued for: Pioneering payment by results at HHCL and leading the

IPA's joint client/agency contract initiative

Favourite ad: HHCL's launch ad for Marie Claire magazine

Favourite McCann ad: Branston Pickle "tang"

Most likely to be heard saying: "If it doesn't work, we can always

change it"

ROBERT CAMPBELL

Job title: Executive creative director

Age: 45

Career high: Yet to come (he says)

Career low: Bringing back "Just one Cornetto"

Most valued for: His charm and his client and staff relationships

Favourite ad: Guinness "surfer"

Favourite McCann ad: British Coffee Association "do you want to come

back to mine for a crabstick?"

Most likely to be heard saying: "Can I smoke in this meeting?"

FRANK LIEBERMAN

Job title: Head of TV

Age: "Forever young"

Career high: Transforming Abbott Mead Vickers from a print agency

into a TV agency

Career low: When his former business partner David Thorpe died

Most valued for: Being the godfather of TV production

Favourite ad: The Guardian "points of view"

Favourite McCann ad: Wall's Sausages "kitchen rumble"

Most likely to be heard saying: "Good, cheap, fast. Pick any two"

STEPHEN WHYTE

Job title: Chief executive

Age: 41

Career high: Being the chief executive of Leo Burnett when it won three

gold Lions at Cannes 2001

Career low: Being ousted from Leo Burnett following a highly political

period in 2002

Most valued for: Client relationships. It was his relationship with

Nestle that got him noticed by Rupert

Favourite ad: Levi's "creek"

Favourite McCann ad: Clearasil for Men "no stubble, no spots"

Most likely to be heard saying: "Lovely"

MARK REDDY

Job title: Executive head of art

Age: 47

Career high: Developing DDB's print credentials, which saw the agency

secure awards in nine categories at the Campaign Press Awards in March

Career low: Becoming the millennium sculptor and never getting to sculpt

Most valued for: His passion for art and the visual image

Favourite ad: Recent award-winning campaign for The Guardian

Favourite McCann ad: Medecins Sans Frontieres Sudan Appeal press ad

Most likely to be heard saying (To clients): "Do you want it beautiful

or ugly?"

DAMIAN O'MALLEY

Job title: Executive head of planning

Age: 48

Career high: Founding Woollams Moira Gaskin O'Malley

Career low: Leaving four years later

Most valued for His: unorthodox approach and lateral thinking.

Favourite ad: Holsten Pils "men don't wear plaid"

Favourite McCann ad: Mastercard Euro 2004

Most likely to be heard saying: "Brands are behaviour"

CHRISTIAN HINCHCLIFFE

Job title: Marketing director

Age: 31

Career high: Being headhunted by Rupert Howell

Career low: The departure of his champions Mark Wnek and Brett Gosper

from his previous agency.

Most valued for: Being down to earth, despite his Eton education

Favourite ad: Fox Sports "sports news from the only region you care

about"

Favourite McCann ad: Nurofen "tracks'

Most likely to be heard saying: "When can I next eat?"

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