The news that David Wheldon was leaving Coca-Cola to become president
of BBDO Europe sent a ripple round the London community. Without being
mean to either his former agency or Wheldon himself, it was a buzz not
commensurate with his previous job in London as managing director of
Lowe Howard-Spink. It was being Coca-Cola’s global head of advertising
which gave him added lustre.
Wheldon’s move would, until recently, have been dismissed as bizarre.
The Euro boss role used to be an elephant’s graveyard where bruised egos
totted up their personal pension contributions. It meant planes, hotel
rooms, being fobbed off by the local agency bosses who resented the
imposition of another management layer.
However, the quality of manager filling such roles has soared: Mike
Walsh at Ogilvy and Mather, Miles Colebrook at J. Walter Thompson, Jean
de Yturbe at Bates, Terry Rosenquist at Ammirati Puris Lintas, and
Wheldon, are all top-drawer bosses, and there are others. If, like
Wheldon, they now have bottom-line responsibilities, they can no longer
be fobbed off. Plus, real power now rests in their relationships with
top regional clients - in Wheldon’s case this will mean Apple, Henkel
and Mars as well as Pepsi-Cola. Where does that leave quality London
management such as Dominic Proctor or Andrew Robertson? Actually, those
two are both in strong positions, but what about their successors?
London agencies still exhibit the same ambivalence towards Europe as our
Government. Many of those who are part of a network seem uncertain as to
how proud of that network they should be. Of course, no-one publicly
criticises the pan-Euro organisation, but it is shown in more subtle
ways - such as disassociating London from pan-Euro work, even if it airs
in the UK. When that situation changes, then we’ll really know these
able men are starting to make a big difference.