Last Tuesday night, the insular world of DDB London was rocked when its all-staff monthly meeting was interrupted by the arrival of its new chairman and chief executive.
The appointment of Paul Hammersley ended the speculation that has plagued DDB over the past year and was greeted with relief by staff who have been waiting impatiently for what is seen as the beginning of the agency's rejuvenation.
Hammersley, who left London in a blaze of glory in 2001 after his success at the helm of the newly merged Lowe Lintas, has been in New York ever since.
However, his glory in London, which saw notable business wins and culminated in Lowe becoming Campaign's Agency of the Year, was not matched in the US.
Hammersley was moved to Lowe New York to stop the agency's continued loss of business. However, he was unable to stem the decline and the agency continued a downward spiral, losing Heineken and Diet Coke, and in 2003 Lowe's IPG parent decided to merge Lowe with Bozell.
Following the merger, the top job went to Bozell's chief executive, Tom Bernardin, and Hammersley decided to leave the agency.
Some sources feel Hammersley was let down by management while in New York, and even Tim Lindsay, his boss at that time, concedes: "If Hammersley didn't succeed to the degree one might have expected after his London success, perhaps he didn't get all the help he might have had the right to expect."
All in all, Hammersley's reputation Stateside is not what it is in London, making his return not entirely unpredictable.
But coming back to London was not his preferred choice, until a few weeks ago. For months, he has been attempting to launch a New York start-up and got as far as securing partners and financial backing. However, the lack of a substantial founding client persuaded him to call the plans off and accept DDB Worldwide's group chairman James Best's offer.
Hammersley is quick to assert his enthusiasm for the job, however. He says there's no way that the job at an agency of DDB's "size, significance and reputation" could be regarded as a backward step (although DDB London is a smaller agency than the merged Lowe Lintas that he quit three years ago).
He views the move back to London in a positive light and, despite being sad to leave a country that he and his family had settled into, he perhaps somewhat bitterly dismisses the ad business in the US as being in a "stupor".
"The big New York agencies are conservative and hierarchical and it's hard for one person alone to make a difference in them," he says.
This failure to take the US by storm clearly wasn't important to Best.
He says: "In New York, Paul did achieve a lot in interesting circumstances. Everything we have learned from New York and London was that Paul, personally, would be able to do a very fine job."
Lindsay agrees that Hammersley is very capable, saying: "If anyone can do it, he can. He has all the conventional weaponry. He's bright and he's been at good places. He also has great charisma and because of this, he's very good at getting the best out of people."
Hammersley was known as Buzz Lightyear when at Lowe and the reasons were clear. He has a clean-cut, trustworthy, capable bearing that washes well with clients and staff alike. It is this strength that is relevant to the turnaround job needed at DDB.
The agency has suffered a string of high-profile domestic account losses including Vodafone, Barclaycard and British Gas. So long the second-biggest agency in the country after Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, DDB London now languishes in 14th position. The account losses have taken their toll on staff morale, resulting in many DDB CVs doing the rounds.
The agency's decision to appoint an external candidate, an unprecedented step, shows not only its recognition of the depth of the problem, but its determination to rectify it. Best explains: "The world is changing and DDB needs to make sure it is not looking inward."
Best believes it's time that a bit of "high-bred vigour" was injected into the agency. He describes Hammersley's brief as "getting DDB back into the top five and developing its domestic business to match the growth of its international".
Restoring the domestic profile of DDB is key to the agency's revival.
Hammersley will need to build a new sense of identity at DDB, which dropped its founders' initials from its name at the end of last year in favour of its international brand.
The fact that the agency is not doing well is probably one of the draws of the job for Hammersley, who thrives on a challenge. Charles Inge, a former colleague at Lowe and currently a creative partner at Clemmow Hornby Inge, says the job will give Hammersley "scope for showing off" and has no doubt that Hammersley, who he describes as "thoroughly likable" and "the best Lowe had", will do brilliantly.
Hammersley needs to change DDB, but he'll have to plough through an awful lot of established management to do so. For starters, there's a lot of chairmen at DDB. There's Hammersley, then Best is group chairman, based in London, while Chris Cowpe has stepped into the position of vice-chairman. In addition, the retired chairman, Chris Powell, is to work one day a week at DDB in an advisory capacity, while the founder Martin Boase still keeps an office there.
A well-established managing director and creative director partnership add to the line-up, making the implementation of real change a daunting prospect.
Hammersley is unperturbed. "I wouldn't be taking this job unless I believed and had had the reassurances that I had total freedom to do whatever's necessary," he says.
"There are some senior managers who have been there for a long time and that's good because you need consistency but, after DDB has made this step to employ an outsider, it's very unlikely that the manoeuvrability of that person is going to be restricted."
Hammersley is clear that he doesn't want to go in prejudging the strengths and weaknesses of the agency but he does seem to have clear ideas about where he wants to take it. "My aim is to make the agency modern, relevant and competitive in today's market," he says. He is quick to add: "If I find it isn't already."
More concretely, Hammersley says he wants DDB London at the forefront of the way he sees the business evolving: "Working in the US gives you a clearer picture of advertising's future and advertising in the traditional sense is going to become a less important part of contacting consumers. Agencies will have to change; it's going to be more about integrated thinking and integrated execution.
"I want DDB to be into business ideas and brand ideas."
Such talk seems like the light at the end of the tunnel that DDB needs but the question is whether one individual, however good he is, can really turn the tide.
The appointment of Hammer-sley marks a good first step but there's a lot to be done and more will be required to reinvigorate DDB and restore the reputation it enjoyed in its glory days.
Lives: North Salem, New York
Family: Wife, Alexandra; children, Mia (5), Saskia (3) and Will (1)
Favourite ad: The Guardian "points of view" and The Independent "litany"
Describe yourself in three words: Honest, decent, true
Greatest extravagance: Heli-skiing
Most treasured possession: A photo by Edward Curtis
Most admired agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty
Living person you most admire: My father
One to watch: Good independent agencies in New York
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