PERSPECTIVE: McCann's split with Langdon indicates a wider IPG malaise

I've always managed to avoid writing a column about Ben Langdon on the basis that if you can't say something good about a person it's best to say nothing. But with Langdon's abrupt departure this week from McCann-Erickson, it's time to banish all thoughts of him as an inspiration for Matt Beaumont's crabby MD, David Crutton, and have a go. Or, as Crutton might instruct me: "Marshall, sweet fuck-all after the front page is not good enough. Do you actually want to end up outside Hammersmith tube flogging the Big Issue?"

But where to start? By noting that Langdon's departure comes amid the ongoing probe into accounting errors at McCann's European operations? Or with the observation that while agencies are fond of saying that their real asset is talent, McCann under Langdon's watch has not excelled at conserving its talent.

Think about it: a stream of big names have been hired and dispensed with from McCann Europe within a mere 12 months. Paul Twivy as the chief strategic planning officer, Oren Frank as the chief creative officer, Brian Jacobs as the head of Universal McCann, Tamara Ingram as the London chairman - all were hired and subsequently dispensed with as revenues shrunk and cost-cutting followed.

On one level, these are just so many big names in a business used to the cycle of big names coming and going. On another level, they indicate what made Langdon successful within McCann. The first non-American to command the network across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, he wanted to bring a fresh perspective. Without a doubt, he was clever, energetic and remarkably dogged in his pursuit and capture of the people who he felt could do it and the kind of robust client that would buy into it.

And, as long as revenue increased, anything was tolerated. Expensive hires from outside the usual McCann gene pool? An intolerant management style? Slagging off the UK market for what he saw as its blinkered attitudes?

Hiring and then instigating the departure of Ingram after giving her less than a year in the job and then stepping back into the London role himself?

All was fine, so long as the numbers were up.

The unravelling started in March this year when John Dooner was forced to hand over the IPG helm to David Bell and return to McCann. He replaced Jim Heekin, Langdon's champion, who was made to pay the price for the network's recent poor performance highlighted by the departure of a chunk of Coca-Cola business. Langdon's departure suggests that Dooner will stop at nothing to achieve his goal of reviving McCann. At the upper level of the business these days, it seems that the only way to operate is to live and die by the sword. Simple, really. In Langdon's case, however, they've simplified him clean away.

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