MEDIA: BEHIND THE HYPE - Super account man tames the international client

Some global clients require more co-ordination higher up, Pippa Considine writes.

There can be little doubt that this is the age of the super-agency, if the pan-global marketing activities of agency networks and multinational clients are anything to go by.

So, it should be unsurprising that there is a new agency role in the shape of the super account man, leading the client team at holding-company level.

WPP already has four such supermen who are working across WPP agencies: Mark Linder (BP), David Wheldon (outgoing, Vodafone), Satish Korde (Ford) and Tim Davis (Unilever). There are plans for at least 20 more.

At Omnicom, the position is an emerging one, although there are senior account people on PepsiCo and McDonald's working across all agencies.

In 2001, PepsiCo handed $350 million in business to Omnicom, and Matt Seiler, a former BBDO account executive, was given a holding company role on the PepsiCo account.

Havas claims to have had such roles in place for many years, but the elevated account directors are formally only responsible across Euro RSCG, although they work with other Havas companies from time to time. Similarly, at Interpublic, the McCann-Erickson World- Group, which includes all the companies in the McCann stable, has worldwide account directors.

That said, Coca-Cola is certainly one client that has announced a strategic relationship with Interpublic. In late 2000, Coca-Cola issued a carefully worded statement naming the McCann holding company as global "creative consultant".

At WPP, Sir Martin Sorrell has acknowledged that co-ordination on an international scale has become more important for some clients. "Clients want ideas, thinking, work, then co-ordination and then price," he says.

This shift towards a single, world focus has not been driven by one single force. In some cases, such as Vodafone, the fact that a client is relatively new to an agency has made it easier for the role to emerge as part of the evolving practice. In others, it has been the result of client demand.

WPP installed a client leader for Ford, its biggest client, because the carmaker got fed up with the infighting between WPP agencies.

The current HSBC global pitch is being conducted at group level at the client's instigation. The $600 million marketing budget will be awarded to the best "dream team" to be assembled at holding company level - with WPP, Publicis Groupe, Interpublic or Omnicom in the frame.

Whether at holding company or agency group level, the tensions involved in co-ordinating such a huge client account are much the same. After all, this person could call an agency to account. Keeping the spectrum of group companies onside, while streamlining a client's multinational business and developing the client relationship is no small challenge. Sorrell has labelled the tensions as "colossal".

Rupert Howell, who is on the board of McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, concedes that there is a fine line between closeness to the client and losing the valuable objectivity of the agency rep. "There are stories of people going native and forgetting who they work for," he says.

Of course, the client relationship isn't going to be left down to just one man or woman. Sorrell at WPP, David Bell, Interpublic's worldwide chairman and chief executive, or John Wren, Omnicom's chief executive, all play the role of supra account man.

Nonetheless, putting such power in the hands of one person must be a dangerous game. "It's like any other human dynamic. If you've got a bloody good director, then it works like a dream," Howell says.

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