What persuades a creative director who has run his own agency for
the past 13 years to jack it all in and take on an international
creative role at J. Walter Thompson?
Global creative director on Unilever at JWT is the new job title given
to 51-year-old Derek Day, one of the founders of Partners BDDH. In his
new role, he will emerge either as a glorified client hand-holder
filling an organisational gap or as a genuine source of wisdom capable
of lifting the creative standards of the agency’s output for
JWT handles Unilever’s advertising in almost 60 markets worldwide for
brands including Persil, Organics and Lipton Tea. Unilever has already
made public a five-year programme to focus its marketing on only 400 key
product lines, ending the promotion of three-quarters of its existing
This consolidation has led to heightened competition between Unilever’s
roster agencies, which include Lowe Lintas & Partners, McCann-Erickson
Worldwide and Ogilvy & Mather.
Last month’s acquisition of Bestfoods, which owned the Knorr and
Hellmann’s brands, will also apply pressure to Unilever’s existing
brands. They must perform or risk being sidelined.
Day will play a large part in galvanising that effort and will be
expected to co-ordinate campaigns that are capable of crossing
The goal is campaigns which are consistent with the strategic objectives
of Unilever’s focus on global brands. Raising the overall quality of its
creative is also key.
The question is how much difference one man can realistically make to
the overall output. ’One person can make a huge difference on a finite
number of brands, not all brands across all markets,’ Day says.
’I chose JWT because it is a wonderful agency for understanding global
brands, and Unilever for its size, success and global reach. I know the
London creative mafia finds it very unusual for people to want to work
on international business, but this is as big an opportunity as you’re
likely to get.’
He continues: ’I don’t have to work. I’ve got pounds 5 million in the
bank but I want to prove that it can be done because most people in
London think it can’t. Clients are doing it with their products;
agencies have to do the same.’
His experience comes from Partners BDDH’s Motorola and Emirates
business, which involved pulling together creative teams across four
’I’ve done enough to make me want to do more,’ he says.
Tim Davis, JWT’s global business director, is clear that what sounds
like a formidable task for Day will actually be approached in much the
same way as are single-country campaigns.
Of the 60 or so agencies that work on Unilever within the network, there
are just ten core advertising centres and this is where Day will spend
the majority of his time.
’Day will work on six to eight key briefs a year,’ Davis says. ’He’s not
just going to be travelling around the world like some creative
We’re not saying the work is bad now but there is a bigger opportunity
to make it better. This structure operates and works well in other
disciplines so why not creatively?’
He points to quality Unilever campaigns that are being successfully
adapted and run internationally: Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s work for Lynx,
Mother’s work for Super Noodles, O&M’s for Impulse and JWT’s on Persil
and Oxo are some valid examples.
Leslie Butterfield, another founder of BDDH, is convinced that this is
the right move for Day. ’Since the agency lost Emirates we can’t offer
him that sort of role, but JWT can,’ he says.
Butterfield and Day first worked together 16 years ago at Abbott Mead
Vickers, where Butterfield was the planning director and Day a senior
copywriter. Day left the agency in 1986 to become the creative director
of Bates. The two were reunited in 1987 when they formed BDDH - one of
the so-called ’third-wave’ agencies - with Mick Devito and Michael
’It’s no accident that he is a very good chess player,’ Butterfield
’He’s a clear thinker and that will be an important quality in dealing
with a huge array of different brands and markets - finding what unites
and divides people.
’He will enjoy coaching people and acting as counsel on how to improve
Dealing with the demands of the top Unilever account management is
perhaps an area in which Day is least experienced.
Tony Dalton, the vice-chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi North America, was
the chairman at Bates when Day joined and is clear about where Day’s
strengths lie. ’He’s not easy and neither is he an account man but he
stands up for the work,’ Dalton says.
’He won’t just try to smooth the path for the clients and he’s not in
the habit of producing cannon-fodder. He is incredibly bright and a very
sharp writer who likes to be given strong creative briefs for strong
Whether Day will have the capacity to create his own work is not an
issue that appears to bother him. ’I’ll be encouraging others to produce
simple campaigns that cross borders so that the international work is as
good as the best local work,’ he says.
’That means working with the best of JWT’s creative teams around the
world. As their creative director, I’ll put a great deal of raw creative
thinking into the work so we end up with two thoughts that
Tim Mellors, the executive creative director at Grey, a roster agency
for Unilever’s main rival Procter & Gamble, is also confident of Day’s
Mellors says: ’He’s not a Thomson-reared man and that will give him a
point of difference from the others. He’ll now be quite a wealthy man
and that will give him confidence in expressing his opinion.
’Monolithic clients such as Unil-ever and P&G are more keen to develop
exciting creative - nothing wild - and that’s where Derek will come
He won’t be going for Mother-style creative but he’ll be aiming to
improve the overall standard of JWT’s creative output on the business,
and it could do with a bit of that.’