Ian McComas sees plenty of opportunity in posters. Richard Cook
There is one real tell-tale sign. There are others, of course, but they
can mislead you, can let you down. There is one sign that seldom
disappoints, that hardly ever misleads.
You can find it on the CV of Ian McComas, the new executive director of
Adshel (Campaign, last week), at what we must now learn to call the More
Group. It comes after the natural sciences degree at Oxford and precedes
details of a five-year stint at H. J. Heinz. It reads: graduate trainee,
Procter and Gamble, and it tells more about McComas than the rest of his
It’s not just that trainees are exposed to a certain corporate culture
at P&G, it’s simply that this culture is so strong and so pervasive that
it tends to linger a little too long. In fact, if it were any stronger,
the joke runs, they’d have to call it penicillin. The result is P&G man,
to be found in many of the country’s top marketing jobs and practically
guaranteed to present few surprises.
P&G man is sure to be pleasant without being too affable, well turned
out, though wearing nothing too well-cut or ostentatious, and a walking
lexicon of the most diplomatic endorsements of employers past and
present. In football terms, a Platt rather than a Gascoigne - steady,
capable of surprisingly skilful moves at times, but above all polite and
well-mannered. At first sight, McComas certainly fits this bill.
The question is, what is a man like that doing in the poster industry?
After all, isn’t this the last bastion of the liquid lunch? The final
frontier for men with larger waist measurements than IQ points?
The answer, of course, is that the poster industry is not, officially at
least, like that any more. An influx of grown-ups from other media, and
management changes within it - the recruitment of people like David
Pugh, who joined Mills and Allen from the Telegraph group, or the
advancement of Francis Goodwin, another product of a classical marketing
background, for example - has helped see to that. And McComas may be
just the most grown up of them all.
This is, after all, a man who served as marketing director of Asda
Stores at the tender age of 31. ‘I just think people from other
disciplines have started to realise that there is very real opportunity
in posters. They have looked at the revenues and seen how they compare
with media like radio and been favourably impressed. Certainly I was,’
His recruitment is part of a much-needed restructuring of the poster
giant led by the group chief executive, Roger Parry, and officially
sanctioned in the change of the holding company’s name to the More Group
To observers, the company has always underperformed. After all, in
addition to owning the single best and most lucrative poster sites in
the UK, along Cromwell Road in London, it controls around 80 per cent of
the UK six-sheet market through Adshel, the brand now entrusted to
‘Basically, the job means that I will look after the development of
Adshel, help smooth out any geographical imbalance in the sites and
market us to clients and local authorities. I am aware I’ve got a
fantastic brand here,’ he says.
It has to be said he’s already made an impression at Adshel, developing
intelligent new packages and starting to sell them based on Postar
ratings - the first time that has been attempted. ‘I’ve certainly formed
a positive impression of him in the short time he’s been in the
industry,’ Francis Goodwin, a former More O’Ferrall marketing boss and
now managing director of Maiden Roadside, says.
In theory, McComas is one of a number of equals. In practice, he is in
charge of the jewel in the company’s crown, responsible for four times
the revenue of the billboard division, for example, and closely
associated with the success or otherwise of the company as a whole. He
has the biggest and best toys to play with, but also the most pressure
to deliver and progress.
But then ambition is not something McComas is short of. For all his
outwardly conventional aspect - the house in Surrey, the weekly golf,
swimming, the devotion to family - here is a man with a healthy self-
regard and a willingness to take a chance. A keen card player all his
life, he’ll have a bet on hands of bridge or on backgammon, even on his
weekly golf game, but not things outside his control. ‘I like a bet,’ he
admits, ‘but I don’t bet on the horses or anything like that because I
couldn’t bear to lose to the bookies. I don’t bet if I can’t win.’
The McComas file
1983 Procter and Gamble, assistant brand manager, Daz
1985 H. J. Heinz, senior manager, corporate business development
1990 British Airways, senior manager, masterbrand and advertising
1991 Asda Stores, corporate marketing director
1992 CIA-Conzept, managing partner
1996 More Group, executive director