CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER - AL YOUNG. Young accepts challenge of raising BHO standards

Young's desire to prove he can turn round a shop led him to BHO.

It could be argued that Al Young and Banks Hoggins O'Shea/FCB, where he will shortly assume creative control, have both reached defining periods of their lives.

Just turned 40 and enjoying fatherhood for the first time, Young has been taking stock. Should he continue in Steve Henry's shadow at HHCL/Red Cell or carve his reputation elsewhere? Seize the moment or regret it forever after?

BHO has been going through a similar period of self-examination. The agency's new-business record is miserable and its creative work, with a few notable exceptions, is unremarkable. Few people seem to know what it stands for and to make matters worse, sexy start-ups have been snatching the kind of business which would once have been the exclusive preserve of established operations such as BHO.

John Banks, BHO's chairman and chief executive, has opted for a radical solution that belies his industry establishment status. Not only is he completely overhauling his managerial front line but has hired Young to supply the creative impetus to attract new business.

The surprise isn't that he should have tried to sign Young - hardly a week goes by without the bright and chirpy Scot getting a job offer from somebody - but that BHO's offer was accepted. In fact, the approach by Jonathan Rigby, BHO's new managing director, was right both in its timing and its appeal.

BHO has turned out to be a perfect example of the agency Young envisaged he would one day join - creatively nondescript but with a list of clients for whom good work was possible, a place where he could change things.

Those who know him believe Young regards the BHO job as a calculated but acceptable risk. "Al wants a challenge in his work but security in his life," a former colleague says. "He likes the idea of helping reinvent BHO but needs the comfort of a pay cheque."

Young says: "When BHO's offer came along there was no good reason to turn it down. I've had offers from agencies with better creative reputations. But I knew if I was going to move it would be to a place presenting an exciting challenge."

At HHCL, an impressive track record, including the agency's acclaimed Tango and Pot Noodle work and a sackful of awards (three D&AD Pencils and six Creative Circle golds among them), couldn't compensate for the fact that Henry was running the show.

"He's always been loyal to HHCL and Henry in particular," a former agency senior manager says. "But he recognises if he doesn't move now, maybe he never will."

No-one doubts that Young is equipped with all the creative credentials.

"Al's work is always edgy and risque without being malicious," Rupert Howell, the former HHCL managing partner, says. "He takes broad-scale humour and sharpens it. The dialogue in the Orange Tango ads is fantastic."

Shaun McIlrath, Heresy's creative partner, who has worked with Young, talks of his genuine enthusiasm for ideas and his focus on producing outstanding work. "He's never been someone who will tolerate mediocrity," he says.

The need to generate new ideas is borne out by Young himself when he recalls his nine-month spell away from HHCL as a director at Trev and Al, the production company he founded with the creative Trevor Robinson. "I found shooting other people's scripts nowhere near as exciting as producing my own," he admits.

So far so good. But only time can prove if Young has what it takes to make the transition from outstanding creative to spark the kind of creative revolution Andrew Cracknell performed at Dorlands in the late 80s.

The indications are promising. Those who have worked with him at HHCL talk of an inspirational figure and great presenter, always generous with his help to other creative teams and often willing to let others take the credit for developing work he initiated.

Ray Barrett, the creative director of Barrett Cernis and a long-time friend, says: "The quality of Al's work goes before him and should galvanise the creative department as long as agency politics don't get in the way."

Young's priority is to bring BHO's overall creative standards up to the level of its most applauded work. "The agency's Waitrose campaign is the best retail advertising in the country," he says. But he also acknowledges its less glorious moments: "As far as Weetabix is concerned, the best is to come."

BHO insists it will back its creative catalyst to the hilt. "Al and I have the same agenda," Rigby says. Cracknell has advice about what the agenda should be: "Don't divide clients into A and B lists. Get to know them all and gain their trust. Do what you instinctively think is right. Ignore D&AD committees and Soho bar know-alls. Keep tabs on everything. Don't get into a situation where you're expected to take responsibility for the work without control of it. Allow yourself three years to get it right."

Much will depend on BHO allowing Young the time and space to do what's necessary. As McIlrath points out: "There's no point in bringing in a racehorse if you're going to strap a cart on him."