Opinion: Perspective - Would the advertising industry miss Langdon?

Many years and another magazine ago, I got an anonymous call from someone who said they used to work in advertising. My deep throat had been sitting on a train next to a guy studying a draft contract offering the managing director role at CDP to Ben Langdon.

At the time, Langdon had been the head of client services at McCann-Erickson for just 12 weeks, and had joined there after being ejected from the now-defunct agency Addition after a scuffle in the street with its chairman, Chris Still.

"I used to work with Ben," deep throat said. "I hated him. I hope you can print this before it's official and piss him off." We did. Langdon denied all for a couple of days before admitting that it was true.

Langdon would probably not be surprised at this story of revenge. He's a man who inevitably comes qualified with words such as "controversial" and "contentious", and has not shied away from decisions that a man more solicitous of general approval would have quaked before.

And he probably won't be surprised to hear that there has been a degree of celebration at this week's news of his departure from Euro RSCG London.

Not that the departure itself is all that surprising - to say that Langdon's arrival at Euro RSCG just 17 months ago made for an inauspicious start is like saying that it's been a bit breezy over in New Orleans lately.

It's one of those delicious stories that deserves retelling: in spectacular fashion, Langdon bailed out of a start-up with the creative Mark Wnek after only three months to take up Wnek's old job at the Euro RSCG helm.

It was a nifty bit of opportunism. His mentor, Jim Heekin, had just been appointed to run the Euro RSCG network, and Langdon, it seems, came as part of the package. With Heekin himself quitting last month, Langdon's tenure looked increasingly fragile.

The exact reasons given by Euro RSCG for his departure are shrouded in off-the-records, but it seems unlikely that the blame can fully be laid upon the recent string of account losses, such as COI Communications and Argos. After all, Euro RSCG has also added £35 million in new-business booty this year; there are several top-ten agency chiefs who should have been sacked years ago if this was the sort of new-business record that spelt severance.

Perhaps Langdon is just too closely associated with the Heekin era and the new boss, David Jones, wants to make a fresh start with his own man.

Or perhaps Langdon's legendary abrasiveness has just got the better of him. Either way, it's hard to see his departure as a blow to Euro RSCG.

The agency - admittedly hardly motoring when Langdon arrived - has lacked anything as fashionable as a vision or strategy. And Langdon, always on the periphery of the business, has not obviously succeeded in engaging the agency with some of the more pressing debates about the role and direction of the traditional creative set-up.

There has been much speculation that Euro RSCG will have to make a UK acquisition if it is to find a new lease of life here, although the perilous state of its Havas parent makes any major investment seem unlikely for the moment.

As for Langdon, it is hard to imagine that he will be inundated with offers. And, if the rumours are to be believed, Grey London has wasted no time in making it clear that he won't be welcomed there as Heekin's man on the inside.

Heekin has been Langdon's protector for some time now. Without him, Langdon may struggle to find a new niche within a traditional agency structure; his reputation will surely work against him. Langdon knows this as well as anybody; whatever else he is, he's an incredibly clever bloke. Would the ad industry miss him? Perhaps not, but he's certainly given us plenty to write about over the years.

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