CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/INTERNATIONAL ACCOUNT DIRECTORS - Account chiefs’ power grows at expense of local agencies in power struggle. Are local directors taking the rap for lost accounts? Francesa Newland reports

Nobody doubts that 1998 was a bad year for Ogilvy & Mather, so the departure of its London chief, Tom Bury, surprised few when it was announced last week.

Nobody doubts that 1998 was a bad year for Ogilvy & Mather, so the

departure of its London chief, Tom Bury, surprised few when it was

announced last week.

One question raised by his departure is whether or not he is taking the

rap for other people’s mistakes.

And in the context of O&M’s loss of lead status on Ford of Europe, it

highlights a current agency issue: are international account directors

getting so powerful that they are wrenching authority away from national

agency managers?

O&M insiders say that if Bury had realised there was trouble afoot on

the Ford account, his hands were tied. The worldwide client services

director, Kelly O’Dea, was the man at the helm of the account and he

reported back to O&M’s head office in the US - to Bury’s bosses.

One former O&M employee says: ’O’Dea had strong relations with O&M’s US

bigwigs.’ Another comments: ’He (Bury) can’t be blamed for Ford. It was

nothing to do with him. The Ford agency structure was led by Kelly

O’Dea.’ A third says: ’Tom thought they were doing all right because

these guys told him they were doing all right. What Tom could have done,

I haven’t a clue.’

The rise of the international account director mirrors a shift by

clients towards globalisation. The managing director of DDB

International, Michael Bray, says: ’You must have them. If you don’t you

can’t run these businesses.’

William Eccleshare, the Ammirati Puris Lintas chairman and regional

director, northern Europe, agrees: ’International account directors have

to be very powerful. It’s very important that agencies deliver a unified

service globally, and to do it they have had to put real professionals

into very senior advertising roles.

’There are now two clear ways to senior positions within agencies:

running multinational clients, or running regional units,’ he adds.

In a recent CampaignLive poll, 89 per cent of respondents felt that

international account directors have more power than local agency

management. To clarify the roles, Young & Rubicam calls its top account

people ’account managing directors’, according them the same status as a

regional managing director.

Kevin King, who led Y&R’s successful assault on O&M’s Ford business, is

a prime example.

It is, of course, cash which makes the international account directors

so valued. John Banks, chairman of Banks Hoggins O’Shea/FCB, says:

’There are some international clients that are much bigger than any

single local office.’ His view is shared by Bray, who says: ’A worldwide

account director can be generating between dollars 50 million and

dollars 75 million in revenue. That’s hard to replace.

It’s simple mathematics.’

And the result: they are extremely powerful. As one client services

director says: ’They have a significant slice of income in their

pockets. When they sneeze, chief executives jump.’

It seems the two posts rarely work together in harmony. One key area of

tension is finance. The account director can demand extra people and

extra money to support a particular client, but it’s the regional

manager who picks up the tab. Eccleshare agrees: ’Sometimes there can be

frustration where the account director needs resources which the office

manager feels are unnecessary.’

There can also be creative tension when local agencies and clients

disagree with the global strategy and campaign.

Not surprisingly, no agency will admit to such tensions. Instead they

claim a free-flowing interdependence between global account management

and local agency management. Richard Hytner, Publicis’s managing

director, says: ’They are both very important and mutually dependent.

You may lead a global piece of business but your only way of delighting

a client is through the people running the domestic agencies.

’Equally, if you are running a UK agency and want to be on the map, you

need the guidance of the global players.’ Eccleshare agrees: ’In the

best-run multinational agencies there will be a partnership. The two

jobs are mutually dependent.’

However, another agency head admits: ’There is a structural flaw that

makes the running of a global account and the running of a local agency

mutually exclusive. At best there is an uneasy sort of balance.’ Another

international agency head says: ’The guy who runs a big piece of

business around the world doesn’t give a toss about the regional manger.

There’s a hell of a lot of steam-rollering.’

But there are means of limiting any damage from the rivalry. Saatchi &

Saatchi’s chairman, Europe, Middle East and Africa, Derek Bowden, says:

’If you keep talking to each other every day you will avoid the


Banks believes making the international account directors accountable is

a must: ’They should be on the worldwide executive board and get paid a

lot. But if they lose the account they should lose their job.’

Which brings the story back to O&M and Ford. O’Dea was not sacked, but a

month after the Ford loss he was moved to New York, where he reports

directly to O&M Worldwide’s chairman and chief executive, Shelly


One friend of Bury and former O&M employee says: ’It’s the classic

search for the scapegoat and punishment of the innocent.’ This is a bit

of an extreme analysis - the agency also lost Guinness and Bupa in 1998

- but there’s an element of truth in it. By letting Bury go, O&M enters

1999 with a clean slate.


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