Ben Langdon's decision to make Chris Hunton the new chief executive of McCann-Erickson was as predictable as his decision to overlook him for the same role last year was surprising.
Many an eyebrow was raised when Langdon handed the Saatchi & Saatchi veteran Tamara Ingram the job 12 months ago. But having burnt his fingers during that shortlived tenure, Langdon was unlikely to have looked outside the agency for a high-profile signing again.
Hunton has been at McCann for four years and had he not been given the top job this time around, the odds of him leaving would have mounted. "In truth, only when I didn't get the job first time around did I realise how much I wanted it," he admits.
Hunton is rumoured to have spent part of last year considering a change of network. His decision to stay loyal to McCann has been rewarded and his promotion is certainly a popular one. Phone anyone who knows him and they'll tell you what a nice guy he is. More significantly, they'll also mention his exceptional client-handling skills, his implausible enthusiasm and his gift for internal communications.
"Chris' heart is in the agency and he gets involved in every area of agency life," WCRS's group marketing director and ex-colleague, Will Hamilton, says.
Langdon adds: "He knows when we're in trouble with a client, when we've done a good bit of creative work and whether we've won or lost a bit of business."
The key to Hunton's value lies in his close ties to the Greene King and Mastercard business as well as the crucial Bacardi account.
Despite having produced a well-received body of work for Bacardi over the past two years, McCann's relationship with the brand is reported to have been rocky recently and Hunton's appointment will go a long way to cement this union. Hunton's proximity to key clients, combined with his reported itchy feet, appears to have made Ingram's departure and his resultant promotion a bit of a no-brainer for Langdon.
Hunton's promotion is part of a management restructure that also sees Langdon take the position of chairman of McCann-Erickson UK Group, which when added to his EMEA roles gives him a title too long to fit on a business card.
But even though Langdon has his hands full with Europe, few see him as the type of chairman to sit back and let someone else run his agency.
People close to McCann were surprised at just how much room for manoeuvre Langdon gave Ingram last year. This time round he intends to be more hands-on and will play as full a part in the UK agency's new-business drive as his schedule allows.
"The reality is that with the environment the way it is and with the importance of the London market, it's vital to have your best team competing there," Hunton explains. "Clients are increasingly needing people and ideas that can really make a difference, so I am certainly glad that Ben Langdon is on my side going forward."
Langdon has a reputation for finding it too hard to relinquish control.
But while casual observers may see Hunton as a puppet appointee, those who know the agency are quick to disagree. He may be softly spoken, they say, but Hunton is a resolute and forthright character, and is better equipped to stand up to Langdon than anyone else at the agency.
"Chris is his own man," Langdon concurs. "He doesn't have a strident facade, but he is made of stern stuff. When he puts a point across he does so a lot more effectively than a lot of advertising's so-called headline-makers."
Hunton certainly doesn't seem to shy away from tough decisions. His first act as the chief executive was to let go of three senior staff who had been appointed during Ingram's reign. The managing partner, Chris Macleod, the business development director, Stephen Colegrave, and the executive planning director, Julian Saunders, were all ousted last week. The first two will not be replaced, while Saunders' planning duties are likely to be partly assumed by Paul Twivy's European planning department.
The restructure is also likely to see Oren Frank's EMEA creative department forge closer working relations with Luke White's domestic creative operation, and, as ever, there will be many a grand gesture concerning improvements to the agency's much-maligned creative record.
But, to revisit an often-used McCann metaphor, the network is like a super tanker, which, unlike its smaller rivals, is unable to change direction at short notice.
Hunton will know that his immediate priority is to strengthen even further the agency's relationship with key clients such as Bacardi, Nestle and Coca-Cola, while quickly improving its new-business conversion rate.
However, Hunton is an ex-Lowe man and, as such, takes great pleasure in playing a part in a good piece of work; the three aforementioned accounts that he's closest to are among the agency's most creatively consistent.
"I would be foolish not to say that the real opportunity for me is to be the person who finally got McCann creative respect in London," he admits.
Although Ingram had this ambition, Hunton's approach is likely to differ significantly. Langdon is clearly pleased with the change of management style. "Chris will bring a complete absence of luvviedom to the role," he says, removing any lingering doubts.