At some time in the New Year WWAV Rapp Collins London hopes to
welcome back its prodigal son, Ian Haworth, to the newly created role of
executive director and head of creative. The exact timing of Haworth's
arrival depends on Tequila's willingness to release him before the end
of his six-month notice period, but his appearance will certainly create
Haworth left WWAV in September 2000, partly because the Tequila offer of
the role of sole creative director was something that WWAV couldn't
match. The UK's largest direct marketing agency has clung to a model of
joint responsibility in its creative department with, until now, four
creative directors sharing power.
Adam Coleman, WWAV's chief executive, wants this to change and thinks
that Haworth's "inspirational and motivating" skills will be a valuable
asset to the agency. Campaign couldn't ask Haworth about the move
because Tequila made him agree not to talk.
It will be interesting to see if Haworth follows Coleman's lead in
attempting to change the status quo at WWAV. If so, he will be
continuing a shake-up that has already begun with the departure of Bob
Nash and Andy Todd, two of the four creative directors, last week. Nash,
in particular, was popular at WWAV and his leaving has come as a shock
WWAV's creative department is large - it numbers more than 50 - but for
the last decade or so it has always faced criticism. Where Abbott Mead
Vickers BBDO, the UK's largest ad agency, has led from the front by
setting creative standards, detractors argue that WWAV's creative is the
poorest part of its offer.
This is a harsh view that contains an element of truth. WWAV evolved out
of traditional mail-order origins, indeed its founder and chairman, John
Watson, was one of the shareholders in the commemorative porcelain giant
Compton & Woodhouse.
However, Watson and the other founders, including Chris Albert, the
creative director, realised that there is more to direct marketing than
flogging John Wayne and Star Trek plates.
WWAV swiftly evolved on the back of charity and financial services
clients and these form the backbone of its business.
Chris Barraclough, the chairman and creative chief at WWAV's Omnicom
sister agency, Proximity London, says WWAV's creative offer has been
unfairly maligned. "There is a latent perception that the work at WWAV
is formulaic," he says. "But it's a very proficient operation and has
very proficient standards of work. There is a perception that it is too
rigid in applying these principles but there are clients who want
Haworth will have to strive hard to make a great impact because many of
WWAV's top clients are mass-volume mailers that want the proficient
service that Barraclough refers to. However, there are signs that this
is changing. Lloyds TSB, for instance, recently appointed Partners
Andrews Aldridge to work on the more "creative" campaigns in its
portfolio - a challenge to WWAV's hold on the account. WWAV can produce
strong creative (Toyota and NSPCC are examples) but needs to extend this
across its client base to stop clients defecting to creatively led
agencies. Hiring Haworth may be the solution.