CLOSE-UP: Newsmaker - Jeremy Dale. Mobile marketer hopes to connect with the public

Jeremy Dale must refresh Orange's relationship with consumers.

With the world and his wife aware that all wasn't well with Lowe and its £43 million Orange account, the agency's decision to resign it wasn't a shock. Ironically, the only person professing surprise is Orange's brand marketing director, Jeremy Dale. But he has the excuse of being barely three weeks into the job.

"I really hadn't expected it," he says of his fateful encounter with Chris Thomas, Lowe's chief executive. "We'd even got together the previous week to mark the second anniversary of the agency's appointment. We'd had meetings to discuss our future needs."

No surprise, though, that Thomas' resignation offer was considered and accepted. The agency had struggled to provide a stable team of senior people on the business. To make matters worse, it was under pressure to produce work which would sustain the brand's place in a savagely cut-throat market.

Word was that Lowe had decided to jump before it was pushed, having already been put on notice to either deliver or lose the business.

Is that true? "Depends what you mean by notice," Dale replies. "We had agreed a demanding programme of work but with an open-ended deadline and with still plenty of time left in which to deliver it." So that's a yes, then.

Behind the scenes, however, the agency was growing increasingly uncomfortable with the business. Senior executives are said to have been frustrated that what they thought was Orange's agenda for change too often resulted in work that harked back to the past. They also complained of lack of involvement from senior decision-makers in the process.

As if that wasn't enough, Thomas found the agency's credibility with its client being steadily chipped away with the departures of people who had been central to the business. Paul Hammersley, Charles Inge and Alison Hoad all left, leaving the relatively junior Sarah Gold, also about to quit, in a pivotal role in charge of the account.

"The fact is that we made a commitment to Orange in terms of the senior team and let the company down," a Lowe source confesses. "Gold ended up being disproportionately important to the business and was being put under too much pressure." Thomas insists Lowe's decision was "the only honourable course of action the agency could have taken".

Whether or not his move simply pre-empted a firing is something only Dale knows. As the client who famously bought Mother's Monkey campaign for ITV Digital ("They were the best ads I've ever been presented with"), he has a reputation as an agent of change and is determined to refresh Orange's image.

"Whether you're Madonna or Nike, you have to keep the reincarnation going," he argues. "It does not mean taking on a new personality. It's about moving on."

Orange used to do that very successfully, establishing itself as the lead player in the market by positioning itself as the consumer's champion.

"Having achieved what it set out to do, I think it lost some of that momentum," Dale acknowledges.

"Now we have to reinforce and refresh the close and ongoing relationship we've always had with consumers."

Although Dale doesn't say so, he clearly feels Lowe's work didn't achieve this with sufficient consistency. The ITV Digital campaign defines his thinking and it's obvious he'd like to introduce something similar - a big TV idea that will work equally well in print and direct marketing - at Orange.

Of course, history will record ITV Digital was a flawed product, which not even a memorable ad campaign could rescue. And it's impossible to think there won't be similar casualties in a telecoms market some say has peaked, with new offerings that technology-saturated consumers won't buy.

Many believe Orange's ability to face these challenges hasn't been helped by so many changes of ownership - Mannesmann, Vodafone and France Telecom - resulting in a lumbering management structure. "Dale has to get back to the kind of tight team that launched the Orange brand," an industry observer suggests.

Dale is tackling all this with his trademark Brummie boyish charm and unquenchable enthusiasm. He says high penetration brings huge opportunities to encourage people to use their phones more. Indeed, most consumers exploit no more than 20 per cent of their mobile's capabilities.

In Dale's favour is a well-rounded career background. His stint at Nintendo's UK distributor, THE Games, has given him a commercial grounding rare in a marketer.

"He's incredibly pragmatic, grown-up and used to dealing with more than just communications problems," Stef Calcraft, one of Mother's founding partners, says.

Dale certainly values the advantages of his experiences in both disciplines. "I know about the economics of business and that, at the end of the day, it's all about delivering a great service at a fair price which allows the company to re-invest," he says. "It's up to me to get that balance right."

As the author of ITV Digital's Monkey, Mother is in a strong position to compete for Orange. But Dale is a very ambitious man - he will only push the account that way if the agency demonstrates that it can suit the Orange brand.

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