CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/DEREK DAY - JWT’s creative signing looks to spruce up Unilever. Derek Day is relishing the international nature of his JWT role, Jade Garrett says

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?

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

the work.’

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.’