CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/NEW ERA FOR THE HENLEY CENTRE; Can Hytner refresh the Henley Centre?

Richard Hytner promises expansion for the Henley Centre, Richard Cook says

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

about rowing.’

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.’