NEWSMAKER/WILLIAM ECCLESHARE: Eccleshare avoids making a drama out of a crisis - Is APL’s chairman capable of revitalising the agency? Harriet Green takes a look

William Eccleshare is a worrier. ’He carries it all on his shoulders,’ says an old friend. ’He’s one of those people born with a bit of a frown.’ This week his brow is likely to get more exercise than usual, and his shoulders will feel a greater weight, because he’s taken over as the chairman of Ammirati Puris Lintas (Campaign, last week).

William Eccleshare is a worrier. ’He carries it all on his

shoulders,’ says an old friend. ’He’s one of those people born with a

bit of a frown.’ This week his brow is likely to get more exercise than

usual, and his shoulders will feel a greater weight, because he’s taken

over as the chairman of Ammirati Puris Lintas (Campaign, last week).



Yet here he is, lolling in a comfy armchair in his glass office

overlooking Soho Square. A mug of coffee in both hands, he chats easily

about his plans - with his feet up on the table.



For three years, Eccleshare has worked alongside Andrew Cracknell in an

attempt to turn round the old Unilever agency. Brought in by Martin

Puris, APL’s worldwide chief executive, in 1995, they were charged with

managing the painful merger between Lintas i (formerly KMM) and SP

Lintas, shoring up the Unilever and Rover accounts and - perhaps most

importantly - adding vim to an agency long regarded as drab.



Puris had given himself five years to forge a truly creative

network.



London, he determined, was to be a jewel in his crown. But last week,

Cracknell quit.



So far, Cracknell and Eccleshare have been only partially successful in

achieving Puris’s goals. Last year they moved the agency from Victoria

to hipper Soho, helping the perception that things were changing. The

Rover account looks safer under the capable stewardship of Chris Thomas,

now chief executive, and the work on the account is better.



On the other hand, new business has been worryingly sparse. APL isn’t

making the big pitch-lists. Sure, it won Burger King and Compaq in 1997,

but earlier this year it lost the computer account (to DDB) in a global

realignment.



Meanwhile, its foundation client, Unilever, has continued to shift

brands to more ’creative’ shops such as Mother, Bartle Bogle Hegarty and

HHCL & Partners.



And Eccleshare was bitterly disappointed to lose the pitch for the

centralised NatWest business to a non-roster agency, TBWA.



If the normally exuberant Cracknell seemed to be losing interest,

perhaps that’s not surprising. Billy Mawhinney, creative director at

Euro RSCG and a former colleague of Eccleshare, summarises: ’What was

expected from Andrew was flair and creative flamboyance, which never

materialised. Poor old Lintas must be terribly fed up.’



Martin Jones, managing director of the Advertising Agency Register,

agrees that APL is in a fix: ’The agency has been caught in the

middle-ground. It’s able to do everything well but has never been able

to articulate to a client why they should hire it. It’s not difficult to

make the agency sexy again, but it has to get on with talking to the

outside world rather than simply talking to itself.’



At the agency’s annual general meeting in January, Eccleshare and

Cracknell posed a challenge to staff: the agency should be Campaign’s

Agency of the Year at the end of 1999. Eccleshare insists it’s still

achievable.



Few observers, however, agree. Where, they cry, are the blockbuster

campaigns, the stonking new-business wins?



’If you think what could have happened after October 1995, it could have

been meltdown,’ explains Eccleshare. ’We’ve been through a phase which

was about managing a very difficult merger and managing the

establishment of the brand in the marketplace.



’We spent a year trying to bring some calm where there had been chaos.

We have done things of which we’ve been very proud, like the Mini or

NatWest press work, and our achievements through the line. And we’ve

grown the business 15 per cent year on year.



’We do have a perception problem but it’s not as bad as it was. We can

turn that middle-ground to a great advantage. We have all the strengths

of the multinational but we are also more fleet of foot.’



On a first meeting, Eccleshare could easily come across as stiff and

formal. He admits he’s never been ’groovy’ (today, he’s clad in a

pristine pink shirt, grey trousers, socks pulled up straight and shiny

black shoes).



And everybody agrees you could never call him Will, or Billy. ’He’s not

a cuddly leader,’ says Jeremy Bullmore, the WPP non-executive director,

’but the longer you’re with him, the more respect grows.’



However, he does have a lighter side. Hard though it may be to imagine,

Eccleshare once danced on top of a table in the J. Walter Thompson bar

so frantically that he fell off. And he’s an understated flirt. ’He’s

different inside to how he is on the outside,’ suggests one former

colleague.



’At APL, he has a coterie of brunettes.’



Friendship with Eccleshare does bring rewards, laughs Mawhinney: ’After

20 years, I have just found myself being able to hug William. I would

never have dreamed that years ago.’



Eccleshare joined JWT in 1978. He rose steadily through the ranks until

he was made the joint managing director in 1991 alongside Dominic

Proctor, now chief executive of MindShare.



It was a battle for the top job. Proctor, who oozes relaxed bonhomie,

won. As consolation, Eccleshare was offered the task of running PPGH/JWT

Amsterdam. ’The reason I joined and stayed with a multinational like JWT

is that I wanted to work in other markets,’ he said at the time.



Of course, that wasn’t entirely true. Eccleshare now admits he was

discouraged by the project. ’It was a really tough thing to do and I was

very frightened.



It was the biggest challenge I had ever faced. The first six months were

very difficult.’ Despite his misgivings, Eccleshare proved a

success.



’It was the quickest learning period and the best thing for me at the

time.’



After two-and-a-half years, he returned to London to take a tailor-made,

strategic planning position, viewed by most outsiders as a

’non-job’.



He’s gracious about it: ’JWT was terrific in constructing a job for me.’

But the truth is that the role probably wasn’t sufficiently ’real’ to

keep him at JWT when other offers came to him.



There’s no doubt that chairing APL is a real job with some hair-raising

moments ahead. Phil Geier, chairman of Interpublic, APL’s parent

company, is putting fierce pressure on Puris to turn round the agency -

and that pressure will inevitably boomerang on Eccleshare. So is he now

happy that he’s got a real challenge?



Eccleshare looks wistful. ’The first ten years at JWT were the best time

of my life,’ he says. ’Now there is so much to worry about.’



He’s not the only one who’s anxious. One former colleague says: ’The

sadness for me as a friend is that he looks haunted and hunted. I worry

about him. He’s hugely ambitious and what I think he would like to do is

manage a plc, but at the moment he doesn’t have the skill-base. I’m not

sure if he’ll stay at APL for long.’



Others agree with the last point, arguing that it’s Chris Thomas, rather

than Eccleshare, who is viewed by the US management as the future

lifeblood of the agency. But Puris insists they are a package. ’Chris

and William work together perfectly.’



And yet a former APL employee says ominously: ’Only time will tell who

got the best of it - Andrew (Cracknell) or William.’



But Eccleshare insists he’s still invigorated by the business. ’I like

to solve intellectual problems, I like the variety and getting the best

out of people.’ Jones, who worked with him at JWT before joining the

AAR, identifies this as his greatest strength: ’As he’s progressed from

job to job, he’s grown in confidence. But he’s never overt about it and

he’s not at all flash.’



With Cracknell gone, though, is Eccleshare capable of bringing sparkle

to an agency which really needs it? Mawhinney thinks he may just pull it

off: ’William is dead straight and dead steady. He’s also a champion of

creative work and allows it to flourish.’



And Eccleshare agrees that this must be his priority: ’That’s what we

will have to do in order to achieve Martin (Puris)’s five-year goal.

It’s not that we can’t do great work, because I passionately believe

that we can.’



So watch out, because it’s time for Billy Eccleshare to take his feet

off the table and start dancing.



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