Close-Up: Live Issue - Bringing a more persuasive attitude to McCann

Brian Fraser and Simon Learman want McCann's creative department to be an enjoyable place to work.

Brian Fraser and Simon Learman are tired. It's not so much their recent promotions and the responsibilities that come with the title of joint executive creative directors at McCann Erickson, it's the pitch they have been preparing for - one that they're sworn to secrecy on.

From the time, the date and the size of the bags under their eyes, it is a safe bet that the pitch was for BT. Juggling responsibilities is something they're going to have to get used to. With Robert Campbell gone, they now rule the creative roost at McCann.

The decision to promote them was, they say, taken at a time when the agency was expecting Campbell to move into his European role. His departure simply meant they moved office a month earlier than they were expecting. So, how are they finding life as executives?

"It's much more difficult to do your own work, that's the obvious difference," Fraser says. "It's the responsibility of running a department and all the human resource things that entails, as well as shepherding the work," Learman adds.

As inseparable creative partnerships go, Fraser and Learman's is particularly close. They met at St Martin's School of Art almost 20 years ago and have worked together ever since - first at Ogilvy & Mather, where they created the "chain" spot for Guinness, then at BMP (latterly, DDB London). They share an e-mail address at McCann; their joint-CV ends with the lines: "They are both married with kids. But not to each other."

Popular perception of McCann is largely coloured by the size of its network. It is a client servicefocused giant; a machine in which the hard edges of creativity are quickly eroded by the legendarily powerful account management department. Learman and Fraser's appointment is one that maintains that status quo; obviously the network does not want a firebrand creative director, hell-bent on turning the London office into a creative hotshop.

That perception, Learman says, isn't exactly fair or accurate: "A lot of people put networks on a downer, but I think it's a great opportunity to produce great advertising. The stuff we create for UPS in the UK runs in 43 countries. Who wouldn't want to create a big advertising statement like that?"

"I think a creative hotshop is a place that creates good advertising that serves clients well," he adds, pointing to the Bisto work that runs on the huge plasma screen in the pair's office. "John Webster was one of our real mentors. Obviously, his tragic death has taken the wind out of our sails a bit, but Bisto is exactly the kind of advertising he would have admired: it talks to people in the front rooms of their homes."

Campbell's appointment in 2003 by Rupert Howell, McCann's regional director and president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, was in part to address the power imbalance between departments in the agency. How well or how fiercely Fraser and Learman are able to fight their corner remains to be seen.

A McCann insider says that while the pair may not have Campbell's ability or propensity to go toe-to-toe with the robust account teams, their more measured approach to getting work through the system will work in their favour. "Look at UPS," he says. "There was a company obsessed with all things brown. Their ability to sell a French actor (Jean Reno) and a time-travel plot to a US company is testament to their more persuasive approach." They agree that they have a lower public profile than Campbell's; it's a BMP mentality, Learman says, "you get on with the work. It's not about ego."

Whatever their differences in approach, the department they've inherited from Campbell is in ruder health than the one they joined just over a year ago.

"Robert has left us a strong legacy," Learman says. "There's a great team here and we all work really well together. Robert nurtured that culture. I want people to enjoy the creative department the way that we used to enjoy it at BMP. That was one of the best creative departments in London: relaxed, professional and quietly confident," he adds.

That's not to say they're not going to make changes. McCann's account split - 65 per cent network, 35 per cent local - is one they'd like to see shifted to a healthier 50:50. "You approach global and local accounts differently," Fraser says. "The roll-out of international business tends to be more protracted; it's nice to get a balance."

And talking of percentages, what do they make of Campbell's claim that he spent 90 per cent of his time at McCann "stopping bad things from happening"?

"I haven't encountered that," Fraser says. "I suspect a lot of that might have been when he first got here." Learman adds: "It's a great job and a great industry - why not enjoy it, work hard and get the most out of it? A bit of boyish enthusiasm goes a long way."


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