Close-up: Newsmaker - Can good things really come to those who wait?

Mike Hughes, the former Guinness and Coca-Cola marketer, has a considerable task in modernising ISBA.

To get an idea of how ISBA's future may evolve under its director-general-in-waiting Mike Hughes, you need to be looking across the Atlantic.

Ask Hughes to list those who have most influenced his professional development, and he is quick to name O Burtch Drake, the chief executive of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

For Hughes, Drake was a mentor-like figure, and somebody who helped make him "advertising literate" when he was on the marketing nursery slopes three decades ago.

Moreover, the respect he has for Drake remains undiminished. Particularly because of the way the so-called "Four As" has developed under his command.

"When Burtch joined the AAAA, its primary role was to 'protect' the medium and stop any threats coming out of Washington," Hughes says. "But he has moved the organisation beyond that. Today, it's an important information exchange medium for its members, and has grown in size and influence."

With Malcolm Earnshaw still at ISBA's helm and Hughes not due to take over until next spring, there is a reluctance by the former Coca-Cola and Guinness senior marketer to be too dogmatic about the direction in which he wants to take the advertiser body. However, diplomacy notwithstanding, it is clear that Drake's evolution of the AAAA will not be lost on Hughes as he takes ISBA forward.

In Hughes' case, that means not only continuing ISBA's ongoing role of "protecting the ad space" to allow responsible advertising to flourish and representing the best interests of its members, but also placing more focus on training. Not least because of a fragmenting media landscape. If Earnshaw's term of office will be remembered as the period in which ISBA came to terms with Europe, it is clear that Hughes would like his tenure to be the one when the membership became fully au fait with digital.

"The web has changed everything," Hughes declares. "If you get it, you have a very smart and cost-effective way of getting your brand message across. If you don't, you're likely to waste an awful lot of money. What you can't be is King Canute, trying in vain to hold back the tide."

On the face of it, Hughes' comments do not seem to square with his background. This, after all, is a marketer with an extensive track record of harnessing the power of mass-market advertising to promote his brands. Not only did he use it to help launch Diet Coke - Coca-Cola's first line extension - into the UK and Europe, Hughes also appointed Ogilvy & Mather as a prelude to the darkly humorous Rutger Hauer campaign that began the transformation of Guinness.

As the chief executive of the cider maker HP Bulmer, it was he who relieved JWT of the business and switched it to TBWA\London, paving the way for the makeover of Strongbow via the "loafing" TV ads starring Johnny Vaughan.

However, his knowledge of the more classic forms of advertising has since been complemented by a spell as the European managing director of Adstream, which specialises in the storage and digital delivery of TV and radio ads, and as the non-executive chairman of Infinite Thinking, a group of niche new-media companies.

The experience has left him a digital disciple, albeit one who admits to knowing little about the mechanics of it. "People who fall in love with the technology are getting too close," he says. "The most important thing is that you understand what it does rather than how it does it."

Hughes entered marketing via an unusual door. Born in Lancashire, he studied philosophy, politics and economics at Hertford College, Oxford. After gaining his degree, he chose to stay among the dreaming spires, setting up a company offering tours of the city to small groups of visitors, with Oxford students acting as guides. "I was doing flyposting as well as selling the service to London hotels," he recalls. "Then somebody told me that what I was actually doing was marketing. I rather liked that idea."

Five years at Unilever, which took him aboard its graduate management training programme, enabled him to hone his skills.

After four years as Coca-Cola's UK marketing chief, he joined Guinness, first as the worldwide brands director, later as the chief executive of the company's US operation. During his time there, Guinness, whose brands also included Bass and Harp, rose through the ranks to become America's fourth-largest beer exporter.

Peter Mitchell, the former director of strategic affairs at Guinness, who hired Hughes, says: "Mike was impressive then and remains so. Not only is he an excellent marketing man and general manager, he is also a good people person who can be tough when he needs to be. He will suit ISBA very well."

Having been headhunted for the job, Hughes says he is hugely excited by it. Nevertheless, there are significant hurdles to overcome, besides ISBA's digital deficiencies.

One is ISBA's somewhat dusty image, which contrasts sharply with that of a more dynamic-looking IPA. One positive signal might be to follow the example of the incoming Advertising Association boss Peta Buscombe ("I hear very good things about her"), who wants to be called "chief executive" rather than "director-general". ISBA's new man is not fussed either way: "I really don't care. It's only a title."

Hughes, who is due to meet the IPA's director-general, Hamish Pringle, for the first time soon, says: "I have heard what has been said about ISBA, but I don't think the perception matches the reality of what ISBA has achieved."

Another challenge is ensuring ISBA remains relevant and value for money to a membership whose first loyalty often lies with their own trade associations. Achieving consensus within such a disparate alliance has always been tricky, but Hughes insists: "My style is inclusive. I like to get everybody's point of view on the table."

What will Hughes himself bring to the table? Perhaps his most valuable legacy may not be a digital one, but rather his experience in fighting the case for an embattled drinks industry. Hughes believes that the problems which confronted alcohol advertisers 15 years ago are similar to those facing snack food and fizzy drink producers today.

"We were getting a lot of criticism from a very powerful anti- alcohol lobby," he remembers. "In response, we set up the Portman Group to encourage responsible drinking, and took action against alcopops. We simply reflected people's right to choose, and there's no doubt we were successful."

Hughes feels the lessons learned can be carried forward into the obesity debate. But he is cautious about abandoning a statesmanlike approach in favour of the more aggressive stance some advocate.

"We have to get off the back foot, but our intentions shouldn't be misread," he says. "We aren't asking for a blank cheque, only that our views should be fully represented."

Of course, the creation of a more proactive and digitally literate ISBA depends on whether a fiftysomething Hughes still has the hunger. "You bet I have," he retorts. "I'm not ready for more golf yet."

Age: 55
Family: Wife Ginnie; children Sophie, 24, Edward, 22, Francesca, 19
Lives: Richmond, Surrey
Most treasured possession: Ping lob wedge
Drives: Elderly Mercedes estate
Favourite TV programme: Newsnight
Favourite ad: Guinness "dolphin" spot with Rutger Hauer
Describe yourself in three words: Open, positive, determined
Hobbies: Golf, watching rugby, theatre, opera
Mantra: Be the best you can be


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