NEWSMAKER/ALFREDO MARCANTONIO: Consummate politician takes tough job in Europe. Interpublic’s mastermind on GM Europe is a likeable joker, Harriet Green writes

Alfredo Marcantonio, white-haired copywriting son of an Italian ice-cream salesman, yearns for home. For more than a decade, he’s been in alien territory. But it’s not the land of Vespas, lasagne and Pavarotti he misses, it’s a very British enclave in Knightsbridge: Lowe Howard-Spink.

Alfredo Marcantonio, white-haired copywriting son of an Italian

ice-cream salesman, yearns for home. For more than a decade, he’s been

in alien territory. But it’s not the land of Vespas, lasagne and

Pavarotti he misses, it’s a very British enclave in Knightsbridge: Lowe

Howard-Spink.



Since 1991, Marcantonio, a founding member of Lowes, has played ’second

fiddle’ - his own words - to the creative maestro at Abbott Mead Vickers

BBDO, David Abbott: ’I’ve always felt this place (Abbott Mead) was

David’s agency. He dominates it even more than Frank (Lowe) dominates

Lowes, because David does the ads as well.’ Abbott Mead is

well-mannered, considerate and quietly spoken (’like David himself’),

says Marcantonio, in an accent blessed with a hint of Estuary English.

’I’m a bit more of a laugh and a joke and I’ll be on my way.’



Indeed, larking about appears to be a major strength. A senior

advertising figure has described him as ’cripplingly funny’ - usually at

colleagues’ expense: ’Marc could get the knife in at 20 feet.’ He once

annoyed David Jones (then Lowes’ managing director but now chairman of

DMB&B Group) to such a degree that Jones eventually hurled a metal

filing cabinet at him. They’re still friends.



At 51, he’s still capable of surprises. Many thought he would stay with

Abbott Mead for life, where, according to one former colleague, he’s

been richly rewarded for ’shit-shovelling’ on accounts such as BT. But

last week he demonstrated his ambition by taking a new creative role

with the Interpublic Group (Campaign, 20 March). He’s been charged with

transforming Interpublic’s creative output on General Motors, which is

divided across Europe between Lowe & Partners and McCann-Erickson. It’s

a demanding, political job.



Interpublic suffered a major blow last November when it lost the dollars

30 million pan-European launch of the Astra to a non-roster shop, Rainey

Kelly Campbell Roalfe. Hence the arrival of the shrewd Marcantonio - and

the unprecedented decision by Lowes and McCanns to work hand-in-hand on

the business.



Adrian Holmes - who, as Lowes Europe’s chairman and chief creative

officer, led the recruitment and is himself a Marcantonio protege -

explains: ’If Marc didn’t already exist we’d have to invent him. For

this role, he’s an unbelievable piece of casting.’



Marcantonio has done it all in his 30-year career. At 24, he played

client to David Abbott at Volkswagen. At Marsteller, he performed the

role of ’suit’. At French Gold Abbott and Collett Dickenson Pearce he

wrote copy.



At Lowes and WCRS he was creative director. At the latter, he also

learned what it can mean to be unhappy, leaving after three years. He

displays a zeal for international advertising and has an impressive

experience of car accounts (cars are a passion outside work too, in the

shape of a vintage convertible Beetle alongside the more obvious Aston

Martin).



Shit-shovelling, it’s been described, but Abbott insists Marcantonio’s

done a fine job at his agency. He’s run knotty bits of BT as well as

unwieldy cross-border tasks such as the International Wool Secretariat.

’I couldn’t have run the creative department without his help,’ admitted

Abbott in a staff memo announcing Marcantonio’s departure, ’particularly

on BT.’ And Sholto Douglas-Home, BT’s consumer advertising director,

pays this tribute: ’He is able to balance business priorities with

creative requirements.



He’s shown great dedication on many difficult tasks. He’s calm and

considered and argues with intellect rather than aggression.’



You can see his appeal for Interpublic. But why does he need them? The

answer lies in the recent change in Abbott Mead’s creative department.

In September, Abbott finally relinquished command of the department to

the youthful Peter Souter. Marcantonio, so long Abbott’s side-kick, felt

it was time to go. ’I was a bit of a security blanket for David. But now

Peter’s grown into the job, it’s become less and less necessary.’



For Marcantonio, the new job offered numerous perks: ’It meets my

interest in international advertising and my interest in cars. It’s also

a chance to be associated again with an agency where I had my purple

patch.’ Marcantonio will take an office in Bowater House, Knightsbridge,

next door to Holmes - whom he hired, long ago, as a junior writer. Some

other proteges remain: the deputy chairman, Paul Weinberger, and the

veteran copywriter, Derek Apps. ’They’re all still there!’ he shrieks

excitedly.



They’re equally pleased to see him. Holmes was delighted by

Marcantonio’s acceptance. It proved an old Holmes adage: never be afraid

of going up to the prettiest girl on the dance floor ... they may just

say ’yes’. And Holmes, Weinberger and Apps are by no means the only

talents fostered by Marcantonio. Others include Chris O’Shea and Ken

Hoggins, John Merriman, Simon Green and John Dean.



If Marcantonio has a regret, it’s only that he never set up his own

agency.



He still wants to make a mark on advertising. Appropriately for a man

who grew up calling himself ’European’, he now has the chance to do that

through cross-border ads. ’There is still great reluctance for people to

work on European and international business. The way to overcome that is

to do great work.’



However, a former colleague offers a less flattering vision: ’He’s a

consummate politician. He’ll toddle round Europe and ingratiate himself

to all the markets. But pan-European advertising cannot be done by

politics alone.’



Soberingly, Rainey Kelly’s first work launches this week. Marcantonio

and Interpublic must be praying it doesn’t register around Europe as

great work.