Returning to adland after a five-year hiatus can leave even the most experienced executive apprehensive. Yet Russell Davies is unperturbed by the prospect of joining one of the grande dames of advertising, Ogilvy & Mather, to lead 200 people as its head of planning for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
While the former Wieden & Kennedy planning director once wrote in his Campaign column "I tend to think big equals boring, network equals bad work, global equals bland", Davies has finally succumbed to working at a "big, bad" global network.
He is rejoining the ad industry after a long absence because, he says: "I felt like it was time to do a proper job again and Ogilvy seemed like a nice place to work. I haven't got any prejudices."
Colin Mitchell, the worldwide head of planning for Ogilvy, concedes that many in the industry will be surprised by Davies' move to the agency. But he adds: "Russell finds Ogilvy intriguing. Handling big, complex brands is a fascinating next chapter in his career. With Russell, it is never about obvious logic, it's about deeper logic."
"There's been a resurgence in planning communications over the past five years and Russell has been at the forefront of that," Mitchell adds. "The challenge now is fitting together all of Ogilvy's pieces in an intelligent way."
Davies will be instrumental in reinvigorating Ogilvy's planning department, which is crucial to the agency's "big ideal" vision. "If you want an agency that delivers then you need superior planning," Daniel Sicouri, the Ogilvy & Mather EMEA chairman, says.
Already 2010 looks like a different year for Ogilvy, after the management changes that followed the departure of the chief executive Gary Leih in 2009 and the appointment of Hugh Baillie in January.
Davies says his appointment shows that big agencies are finally changing their habits and hiring talent outside the traditional ad industry roles. "Agencies are changing, some more than others, but these are things that have been talked about for years," he says. "It's been a slow, steady evolution, but agency outsiders like me are getting hired again."
After working at the independent creative hotshop Wieden & Kennedy for nine years, Davies quit the agency in 2005 to become the global planning director at Nike, an account he had helped to win while at W&K.
After a year, he left to "pursue bookwriting, a nice cup of tea and the odd piece of consultancy".
In 2008, Davies wrote in his blog that "the best reasons for starting in advertising are the countless opportunities you've made for yourself when you leave". And Davies has achieved a lot of what he set out to do. He has written his first book, Egg, Bacon, Chips And Beans: 50 Great Cafes And The Stuff That Makes Them Great, and has gained a devoted following on his well- regarded blog, russelldavies.typepad.com/planning.
As a regular commentator, not least through his Campaign column (page 20) on new media and technology, Davies, Mitchell says, "understands how people use technology in the real world. His vision is five miles into the future".
However, a modest Davies believes he is no more digitally savvy than any other planner. His approach may be down-to-earth and self-deprecating, but Davies combines an almost boyish enthusiasm for ideas and gadgets with a razor-sharp insight into how trends apply to communications.
What he does believe he can bring to the Ogilvy role is good ideas. "I'm looking forward to thinking of good ideas and making them happen, but I'm not trying to solve the problems of the ad industry," he says.
Davies' strengths also lie in good creative ideas, his former W&K colleague, the creative director at Beattie McGuinness Bungay, Ben Walker, explains: "Russell obviously thinks incredibly strategically, but he also knows how to turn those strategic thoughts into good creative concepts."
Davies might have been out of the industry for some time, but it's clear that he has decided to return because, as he once said: "British adland may have lost much of its glamour and its pre-eminence in the pantheon of global creativity, but it's still the best training you'll ever get for most of the things you might dream of doing."