There’s hardly been a reference to Anthony Wreford in the marketing
press in the past decade, and his file is one of the thinnest in the
Campaign library. Yet in October he becomes president and chief
executive of Diversified Agency Services Europe, Omnicom’s huge
marketing services arm. He succeeds Michael Birkin, who moves to New
York as global president of DAS.
More eminence grise than shrinking violet, Wreford points out that the
shortage of press cuttings reflects how he has earned his living for the
past ten years. He’s an independent corporate consultant ’providing
clients with discreet advice rather than in-your-face publicity’.
To people outside the Omnicom empire, this must still sound like an odd
appointment. Why bring in someone from outside to head a group which is
hardly lacking in management talent? The truth is that, far from being
an outsider, Wreford is the ultimate insider. Ever since BMP fought off
an unwelcome bid in 1989 from the French group, BDDP, and was, in his
words, ’white-knighted’ by Omnicom, the group has been one of his most
Omnicom’s chairman and chief executive, John Wren, says he has been
trying to persuade Wreford to join the group in some capacity ever
since. The reason he has failed until now is because Wreford had been
too busy enjoying himself.
Not only has he had the comfort of working from home - a splendid
apartment on the Chelsea Embankment - but he’s been able to strike a
balance between consultancy, investing in ’people businesses’
(up-and-coming agencies) and his passion for sport.
’People have been asking me why, with this lifestyle, I said ’yes’ to
the appointment,’ Wreford acknowledges. ’But it was only when John
(Wren) offered me the job that I realised I needed another
In his role as consultant, he’s been involved in most DAS acquisitions
and strategy decisions in Europe for a decade. ’My appointment is not a
signpost for major upheaval,’ he says. However, rationalisation and
mergers within DAS will continue and takeovers remain a priority.
As Wreford points out, Omnicom has been operating a three-tiered
It has been acquiring complete networks, such as TBWA; plugging gaps in
networks as it did when it bought BMP to slot into DDB Needham, and
moving into specialist niches, such as healthcare.
The contrast between Wreford and his predecessor, Birkin, is
Birkin could pass as an agency creative, despite the fact that he is a
qualified accountant with a law degree. Colleagues in the DAS
subsidiaries are in awe of his financial grasp of the business. The
slightly older Wreford is more likely to be seen in a suit but he bows
to Birkin’s deeper accountancy knowledge.
On the other hand, Wreford is ’a profoundly clear-thinking businessman,
with a great understanding of the City - and perhaps that’s what’s
needed now,’ according to Andrew Melsom, founder of Agency Insight. ’He
also has great talent with people. Put him in a meeting room full of
senior executives and he’s a knockout.’
Others emphasise his contacts. ’He’s a natural and compulsive
networker,’ notes one observer. ’There’s no-one he doesn’t know. If you
say you know a dog with three bollocks, he’ll know one with four.’
An insight into his working methods comes from James Maxwell, chief
executive of what is now the PR group, Ketchum UK. Wreford was involved
in luring Maxwell’s original company, Scope, into DAS (to form Scope
Ketchum) and, more recently, in prising the consumer PR specialist,
Life, out of the Omnicom empire to merge with it.
Maxwell says: ’He is very talented at matching opportunities to people,
whether it’s clients to agencies, or agencies to organisations like
Omnicom. He’s a great one for spotting synergies, and how chemistry will
work. He’s extremely subtle and discreet.’
The question remains how Wreford got to where he is now. The potted
biography has him starting as a junior account handler at Leo Burnett,
after graduating from Oxford in economics. From there he went to the
stockbroker, Cazenove, and then the Financial Times.
Thus, when he came to launch, aged 28, one of the first specialist
strategic corporate PR consultancies, McAvoy Wreford Bayley, he could
claim a 3-D background. ’Luck and timing have quite a big part to play,’
he says modestly. ’In 1981, companies were beginning to look at their
corporate images properly for the first time, so we were on the right
part of the mountain.’
MWB was sold three years later to Valin Pollen and after completing his
earn-out, he took a year’s sabbatical. ’I wasn’t burned out, but I was
singed,’ Wreford admits.
He returned from travelling with no clear vision of his next move.
However, BMP had just bought Davidson Pearce, and Martin Boase invited
him to do some part-time consulting. Soon he was helping to see off the
unwelcome bid from BDDP. BAT was the next to knock on his door and
suddenly his consultancy career was launched.
It has suited him well. He’s been able to combine it with investing in
businesses that interested him and with his love of sport. He’s on the
MCC’s main committee and last year led the successful campaign that
finally lifted the ban on women members. Wreford plans to keep most of
these interests going, even though being European head of DAS will be
very much a full-time job. But he makes it clear he’s done his stint of
12- and 14-hour agency days.
’At Oxford, the people who spent every day in the library actually got
worse degrees than those who worked fairly hard but also smelled the
fresh air,’ he notes. ’A lot of the DAS job is about judgment and
helping companies make the right decisions. Having a little space is
important in making correct decisions. I can think just as well walking
down the fairway as I can behind a desk.’
THE WREFORD FILE
1973: Trainee account executive, Leo Burnett
1975: Cazenove, stockbroker
1977: Financial Times, business development and special products
1981: Joint founder of McAvoy Wreford Bayley, acquired by Valin Pollen,
1987: Sabbatical year
1988: Independent corporate consultant with clients including Omnicom,
McKinsey, Lehman Bros and Nike.
Member of MCC main committee and the Lords Taverners communications
1999: President and chief executive of DAS Europe.