Publicis has named Morris as its chief strategic officer, putting him at the heart of agency management. He will control strategy across the agency, with department heads reporting to him. "It's about as neutral as you can get,
the Publicis' chairman, Richard Hytner, says. "Internally this gives us something completely new that nobody else can offer."
Morris is keen to separate his role from day-to-day account or media planning. "This isn't Publicis hiring a media man to do five charts for a pitch,
he says. "I'm here to try to add an integration to the way everyone thinks and acts."
Some see Morris' hiring as a way of stepping back toward a smart - and tidy - full-service offering. However, eyebrows have been raised across the media community, not only at Morris' choice of employer but also at the the friction that could result with Publicis Groupe's roster of media agencies. In the aftermath of Publicis' Bcom3 acquisition, this now includes Starcom Motive and MediaVest in the UK, as well as Zenith and Optimedia.
"The role of a communications planner is more and more treading on the toes of an advertising account's planner,
Neil Jones, the client services director at Carat, says. Could there be turf wars looming between account planners and media independents?
Hytner, unsurprisingly, shrugs off such concerns: "While we work incredibly well with Optimedia and media independents, it can only benefit the client if there are people within the agency experienced in this discipline. Derek will act as fantastic glue between us and our media partners."
Whether the role will create tension depends on the personalities involved.
"If Publicis starts imposing its view to the exclusion of the media agencies' recommendations, yes, it could cause tension,
Will Collin, the co-founder of Naked, agrees. "But you could find there's more collaboration."
Morris' character will be central to the outcome. "Derek's a seasoned pro,
Collin adds. "It's not like he doesn't know the game.
But other media contemporaries, while applauding Morris' experience, mutter that he can also be an intellectual snob, high-handed with those he regards as inferior.
If Morris is really to act as Publicis' media "glue", he must learn some diplomatic skills, particularly given the disputed territory he's treading.
As one media player puts it, when people talk about media neutrality they really mean media selection - and who gets to make it. If creative agencies and media independents are to battle over this, Morris will find himself in the front line.
"I don't see why it should be that way,
he counters. "If I were writing media plans, perhaps. But the role is about trying to work with an agency and develop it to have a broader offer."
Some describe Morris as a corporate animal, happier in a big organisation than in a smaller, creative role, and argue that this fits well with Publicis' requirements. His early career bears this out. In 1980 he joined BMP as a media planner, becoming the joint media director with Paul Taylor in 1991.
The break came in June 1997 when he quit as the joint managing director of BMP Optimum to form Unity with his former BMP colleagues Andy Tilley and Ivan Pollard. Yet in the past year, rumours have grown that the trio were not living up to their collective name.
That Morris took the risk of forming Unity is likely to be due to his frustration with media companies not taking content and creativity seriously. He says that setting up a media communications specialist then progressing to Publicis is a natural evolution. "It's an edge back to full thinking rather than full service,
he says. "What makes it so current is the explosion of different channels and media you can use."
If Publicis' idea is such a good one, why haven't other creative agencies been considering similar moves? "Creative agencies have been slow to see what's happening,
Other media operators argue that their creative counterparts only pay lip service to integrating their offerings.
It is clear that such a hiring will only work if agency groups get their houses in order first and make sure, as Publicis has, that they are willing to make changes. All eyes will be watching Morris' work with interest.