PERSPECTIVE: Howell's charm can provide the McCann machine with heart

I've always wondered why Rupert Howell is so proud of his helipad. I can see the appeal of owning a country estate away from the hurly burly, but what's the point of a helipad if you don't have a Sikorsky? Now I know. It's all about stealing some of the hundred or so global accounts that matter by inviting the chopper-owning chairmen of said companies to his fantabulous country house. A helipad's the ultimate new-business device and worthy of one who was a Ferrari-driving Young & Rubicam new-business director at only 27.

But let's look at Howell's move to president of McCann-Erickson Europe with a more serious eye. Without a doubt, it's one hell of a coup for McCann. With his confidence bordering on arrogance, Howell's one of the most gifted admen of his generation. He's energetic, obsessive about success, passionate about the business and rarely cynical. He's got the strengths of an account person in spades: charm and an ability to make people want to buy from him. His PR ability puts the combined efforts of Lace and Hornby in the shade.

Howell will bring a bit of sparkle to a world in which European agency heads have perfected the art of anonymity. A life spent talking slowly to foreign colleagues and examining spreadsheets in airport departure lounges hardly attracts the industry's entrepreneurs, after all.

His appointment is not without irony. In 1987, Howell founded Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury, the most controversial agency of the 90s with its step-change work for First Direct, Pepe, Mercury, Maxell and Tango. With its open-plan offices, romping, tissue meetings and politically correct campaigns for the likes of Fuji, HHCL challenged everything that made the big process-driven machines such as McCann successful.

Even Howell's recent venture, The Growth Organisation, was deliberately conceived with the weaknesses of the big networks in mind. It never got off the ground, of course, but it was founded on the principle that agencies are no longer where it's at for clients. Now Howell's charged with making a success of, um, that flawed big-agency concept.

Howell's one of the great chameleons of the business. Rabid new-business getter in his 20s at Grey and Y&R; entrepreneurial maverick in his 30s at HHCL; guardian of the interests of the media sector in his early 40s while president of the IPA; City schmoozer during an unspectacular and politically charged stint at Chime. But the one thing that's defined his career since Y&R is that he's made his own rules. He won't be able to do that at McCann, where the entrenched international clients such as Coca-Cola and General Motors set the tone. But if anyone can put heart into the machine, attracting a few clients who might buy good advertising along the way and a team to produce it - well, Howell's your man.


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