CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/BEN LANGDON - McCann's enfant terrible unveils vision for Europe. Ben Langdon is relishing taking on an international role, Matthew Cowen says

Ben Langdon says that his decision to leave CDP for McCann-Erickson

was made on the basis of a pitch. One that he, uncharacteristically,

lost.



The year was 1996 and the account up for grabs was Sega, which Langdon

felt should be a shoe-in given his agency's Japanese credentials. All

the same, he'd given the pitch the full treatment, jetting around the

world drinking cocktails with the company's senior management, charm

turned up to full.



"Then someone told me that Sega felt the door to the west was being

opened by McCann rather than Dentsu," he says. "That absolutely killed

me. I realised then that the game was up at CDP." A couple of months

later and he was moving over to join the agency with the key.



It's a story that sums up much of Langdon's character. There's the

ultra-competitiveness, the ferocious focus on the job in hand, a hint of

the intense natural charm that he focuses on senior clients. There's

also the pathological refusal to accept defeat, the ruthless ability to

size up a situation, and the ambition instantly to assess the prospects

of an agency network and do what had to be done as far as his career was

concerned.



Five years on and Langdon, at the tender age of 38, is one of the most

powerful Englishmen in world advertising, becoming the first

non-American to command McCann-Erickson Worldwide across Europe, the

Middle East and Africa. The same week, CDP is being merged into its

one-time subsidiary, travissully.



It's far from the first time that Langdon and the UK's advertising

heritage seem to be moving in different directions. Adland has enjoyed

caricaturing him as a wild-eyed chief executive from the Genghis Khan

school of management, most memorably as David Crutton in Matt Beaumont's

e. Langdon gets his own back by talking about London as an advertising

culture in self-induced decline, cut off from the crucial international

arena.



"People are particularly blinkered here," he says. "If you asked

creative headhunters to find the talent who could do a Nike or Gap

campaign, you'd be met with blank faces. We don't tend to get the

higher-end creative ideas that global campaigns need."



Langdon has always focused on the bigger picture - and his excitement at

getting down to serious international business full time is apparent

during the interview. The media's obsession with his image has always

grated with him. He sees it as an outdated hang-up that gets in the way

of business.



Langdon is, in his own words, an "issues-based" manager, a corner-office

trouble-shooter sent in to a situation to size up the issues, rally the

troops and sort things out as quickly as possible. "The people he gets

frustrated with are usually the lazy ones," Johnny Hornby, Langdon's

deputy at CDP, says. "If you're up for it, then Ben's very liberating to

work for. He's incredibly driven though. He needs to sort out today's

problems today."



Most of the time he seems able to do so. As the managing director at CDP

between 1993 and 1996, Langdon oversaw a stunning new- business

turnaround that effectively staved off the possibility of Dentsu closing

the agency. In McCann, he inherited a fragmented business outside the

top ten and drove through a reorganisation that leaves it at the top of

the UK income table.



Balancing the books at CDP and McCann, though, has not been enough to

give Langdon the reputation he wants as a genuine creative thinker.

Former colleagues are unanimous when it comes to respect for his

intellect - but it's something he's rarely had the chance to show up to

now.



"When I came to McCann, I knew I had to grow the company and I doubled

the size of it in four years - but it wasn't visionary," he says. "With

a region you have to have a vision. You have to know where the industry

is going and what the clients want. You have to have a plan and get it

done."



Langdon's vision for Europe is twofold. On one hand, it involves

recruiting creative-minded international strategists who can inspire

clients to produce quality global work. He wants to win at Cannes within

the next three years and show those "blinkered" UK creatives where

they're wrong.



At the same time, Langdon talks about diversifying McCann-Erickson's

advertising offering to allow several different "routes to market" and

help the network ride out recession without cutting resources too

severely.



"We've got to be tight on costs but at the same time there's never been

a more important time to keep investing," he says. "The danger is that

if you ratchet the business down, you've got nothing to come out of

recession with. We have to do both."



It's a tough time that calls for tough management decisions - and in

many ways, Langdon could not be better cast. He sniffs at the suggestion

that rumours linking him to other agencies might have forced McCann's

hand. Nonetheless, it seems possible that the agency opted to promote

him now rather than risk losing him.



McCann need only have looked at CDP to see how difficult Langdon can be

to replace.



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