Richard Hytner promises expansion for the Henley Centre, Richard Cook
‘I mentioned to someone here that Richard Hytner had turned up at the
Henley Centre, and they said they didn’t realise he knew the first thing
The reaction of this particular agency chairman might be exaggerated,
but there was some bewilderment when it was revealed that the former S.
P. Lintas chief executive had accepted the role of chief executive at
the WPP-owned strategic marketing consultancy (Campaign, last week).
Although most agencies have at least heard of the Henley Centre, the
majority have only a sketchy idea of what it actually does.
And this was Richard Hytner, after all, who famously turned down a
position on the board at the prestigious Ammirati Puris Lintas agency in
New York. Add to that the fact that he was bringing Paul Edwards, the
former head of planning at S. P. Lintas, with him as deputy chairman and
at first glance it looked as though the centre had got by far the best
of the deal.
Actually, according to Hytner, the attraction is mutual and agencies not
aware of what the Henley Centre does should take care because, if he has
his way, they might wake up to find they are staring at the competition.
Since leaving APL in January this year, Hytner had been linked with a
series of high-profile agency jobs. There was persistent speculation
that his old colleague, Paul Twivy, would tempt him across to the vacant
managing director’s role at Bates Dorland. But Hytner stresses he was
never even approached to fill that position.
‘What happened on this job was that I was rung up by Jeremy Bullmore at
WPP who kindly mentioned that he had been thinking about my career and
about linking me with the Henley Centre,’ Hytner reveals.
Negotiations proceeded at a rapid rate, helped by the determination of
Martin Sorrell to get his man, and Hytner will slip his feet under the
table at the centre’s head office located, bizarrely enough, not in
Henley but at Blackfriars, next week.
‘Like a lot of advertising people I was aware of the name, but I didn’t
really know what it was all about,’ Hytner admits. ‘What it does is
produce serious strategic advice for clients such as United Distillers,
Unilever and BT, and produce syndicated research studies and
publications.’ The latter ranges from UK economic forecasts to the more
familiar - to the ad world at least - Media Futures reports which
examine and predict changes in the rapidly moving media marketplace.
The research has a strong reputation and the centre employs more than 70
people; but the feeling has been one of a corporation that hasn’t really
pulled its weight. That could be about to change.
‘What I think we will try to do is to make the centre more aggressive
and try to create change by getting more involved with clients,
especially on strategy planning. It’s not going to be enough just to sit
back and deliver the data.’
Hytner thinks that this more hands-on positioning will mean that the
centre will compete more directly with management consultancies, but
also concedes that there will be more than a little overlap with the
planning departments of advertising agencies.
‘I would like to make the centre more like what the planning discipline
within agencies aspires to be. But, at the end of the day, agency
planners have only one tool in the toolbox and that is advertising. We
have got much more to offer.’
The repositioned Henley Centre with a beefed-up strategic planning
element would, according to WPP, be able to reclaim some ground lost to
management consultancy over the years.
A consultancy such as McKinsey can advise Unilever on manufacturing
goods and extracting the best deals from retailers, and advise Safeway
simultaneously on retailing and extracting the best terms from
manufacturers, in a way that no ad agency could. The plan is that a new-
look Henley Centre could compete with the first, while replacing some of
the planning elements provided by the second.
‘Hopefully, though, Henley will be involved much earlier than the agency
and be higher up the decision-making process,’ Hytner says. ‘We will
hopefully be working on the development of strategy, as well as getting
involved at some of the planning stages and in areas like qualitative
It’s a tricky balancing act - lean too far one way and the Henley
Centre’s eclectic mix of economists, politicians, consultants and now
advertising executives is just another management consultancy. Go too
far the other way and you tread on the toes of ad agencies, not just WPP
agencies, but also the likes of Lowe Howard-Spink, Young and Rubicam and
Bartle Bogle Hegarty - all current Henley Centre customers.
‘The more I look at the appointment the more interesting it looks,’ the
APL chairman, Andrew Cracknell, reckons. ‘The first thing you get with
Richard is limitless enthusiasm and ideas, and just the fact that a man
of his background has taken the job adds some needed profile to the
‘Add to that the fact that he’s taking a strategic planning expert with
him in Paul Edwards and you have a very intriguing picture developing.
It may be that they are shaping to compete most closely with
consultancies, but you don’t have to look very far between the lines to
see that it will be competing more closely with agencies on strategic
planning as well.’
Hytner’s first task, though, will be to sharpen the centre’s public
profile. He recalls seeing a Henley Centre spokesman making excellent
points on a recent Without Walls programme on Channel 4. ‘I was
impressed, and it’s just the sort of thing we should be doing, but it
transpired that the man had since left, and no-one was aware that the
programme was on.’