CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/KELLY O’DEA - Bozell’s global challenge for the Colorado Cowboy/Kelly O’Dea is back at the top after falling from grace at O&M, Harriet Green says

Kelly O’Dea leads a double life. In the office, he puts his all into the role of globetrotting adman. But at heart, he’s a genial buck from Colorado - a Stetson-wearin’, horse-ridin’ cowboy dreaming of a ranch he can call his own. ’This is not my natural garb, you know,’ he booms, casting a glance over his humdrum shirt, tie and pin-striped suit.

Kelly O’Dea leads a double life. In the office, he puts his all

into the role of globetrotting adman. But at heart, he’s a genial buck

from Colorado - a Stetson-wearin’, horse-ridin’ cowboy dreaming of a

ranch he can call his own. ’This is not my natural garb, you know,’ he

booms, casting a glance over his humdrum shirt, tie and pin-striped


Well howdy, pardner. Here he is, in Covent Garden, ready to lasso new

clients and, er, break in wild horses in his new role at Bozell


Be sure to take a deep breath before you read his new job title - he is

vice chairman of international operations and global client


In other words, he is in charge of Bozell’s networks outside the US - 90

offices in more than 50 countries, spread across Europe, the Middle

East, Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America. He’s also responsible for

the agency’s global clients (Campaign, last week).

Until this week, 50-year old O’Dea had only ever worked at Ogilvy &


He joined in 1973 as an account executive and copywriter, rose steadily

through the ranks and looked after major accounts including Unilever,

Shell, TWA, Kraft General Foods, IBM and AT&T. Eventually, he became

president of worldwide client service with additional responsibility for

Ford around the world. ’I knew early on in life that I was going to be a

global kind of guy,’ he says.

O’Dea built a strong relationship with Ford during his decade on the

business. He was, for example, behind the ’everything we do is driven by

you’ slogan that was ubiquitous in the early 90s.

But then things got hairy. First, in 1994, O&M lost a pan-European Ford

pitch. The winning agency was Young & Rubicam, which held the car

account in Germany. O&M passed this off as a brief of little importance,

but in fact it was the launch of the Galaxy.

Over the next four years, the rot spread to the Cougar, the Lincoln, and

the Puma; and finally last July O&M lost the Focus, the Fiesta and the


As top dog on the account, O’Dea was blamed. One former colleague says

he grossly underestimated the threat posed by Y&R. ’Every time we lost

something, he would always say that it didn’t matter, it was just small

brands.’ But an equally senior Ford insider insists O’Dea was in no way

culpable: ’He got well and truly stiffed. The wrong people took the rap

for Ford.’

Certainly, O’Dea was hurt by press coverage at the time. He still wishes

to avoid the subject. Ask him about it and he’ll immediately start

talking about the future. ’When you write this thing, please focus

forward,’ he requests, on numerous occasions. He also tries a casual

tack: ’How long have you got for this interview?’ he queries

nonchalantly. ’I don’t want to take up too much of your time on old


Nonetheless, he finally acknowledges: ’I was the guy at the top of the

chart. It goes with the territory. Hey, it was spirited competition and

we fought like it was the end of the earth. I saw the best of O&M during

that period and some of the work we produced was stunning. I saw 40 or

50 folks up all night working together out of Canary Wharf or


’Patrick Collister (executive creative director of O&M London) and Luis

Bassat (creative director of O&M Europe) rolled up their sleeves and

worked real hard. It was a great joint effort.’

Naturally, the episode was painful. ’It was a terrible experience. I had

gotten through 25 years without losing one penny of client business on

any account in my group. Ford of Europe was in my group and I felt like

some of my babies were being taken away.’

If O’Dea doesn’t want to revive the memory, that’s understandable. ’You

really measure yourself by how fast you pick up and get going. You have

to have some perspective. You have to respect Ford’s need to get the

best out of its agencies. The bottom line is that Ford is still one of

Ogilvy’s largest accounts worldwide.

’I’ve been in the business for 25 years. I know how it feels to be

regarded as losing it and also to be on top of the game. I know the

highs and lows. There’s no point getting upset, you have to move


And that’s what he did. After Ford, O’Dea was given an unfocused job

reporting directly to Shelly Lazarus, O&M Worldwide’s chairman and chief

executive - but it can’t have been hugely rewarding because he soon

began to consider some radical alternatives.

’Your gut tells you it’s time for a new adventure and fresh air,’ he

explains. ’I’d had many opportunities to go elsewhere but I wouldn’t do

that because I had such a strong personal commitment to the company and

my clients. After the loss of Ford, however, I felt that commitment had

been fulfilled. The toms-toms were beating, saying sit back and consider

where you are.’ He considered leaving advertising, using his experience

with Ford, AT&T and IBM for a move into the automotive or technology


Then, by chance, he ran into David Bell, chief executive of True North,

the company which owns Bozell. ’David stopped me dead in my tracks. He

turned my head. I was very attracted by what he had to say,’ O’Dea


He began to investigate Bozell as a possibility. ’I started looking

underneath the covers and everywhere I looked I got a good surprise. The

fresh air was there, the adventure was there. I found a company on the

move, a global company with the pace and spirit of a start-up. A company

that doesn’t just embrace change, but kisses it on the lips.’

But O’Dea admits that the agency does suffer from a low profile in

Europe. Like True North’s other subsidiary, FCB, it’s much better placed

in the US. ’The Bozell reputation lags behind reality. I need to close

that gap immediately.’

He must also be aware that the agency is regarded as overly dependent on

one particular account, Daimler Chrysler.

’I’ve got a plate full of things to do,’ he drawls. ’First, to focus on

global clients - existing and emerging clients. Second, to connect the

dots on the network. Third, to look at areas such as mergers and

acquisitions for market coverage, size and skills.’

Collister believes O’Dea has the global vision that makes him perfect

for the job. ’Kelly is an impressive guy. He was the first person to be

really wired, the first to have a laptop that did everything. And he was

way ahead of the game when it came to talking about the global village

and was fascinating on the subject.’

Praise also comes from Richard Pinder, O&M’s managing director, who

believes O’Dea’s new colleagues are in for a treat: ’He’s a fun guy. He

will certainly liven up Bozell. I’m sure they’ll find him a hoot.’

They certainly have high hopes. Mark Lund, managing director of Delaney

Fletcher Bozell, says: ’Bozell has a very good reach geographically.

What it needs are more truly global clients. What I hope is that this

guy will be able to work with us in London and be really useful in

winning regional business.’

He promises to put in plenty of work. ’I don’t like the concept of

sleep,’ he says, explaining that he keeps a pen and paper beside his

pillow in case ideas occur during the night. ’The fact that we are

required to be unconscious for half of our lives seems such a horrible

waste. You don’t know how long you are going to be here and you want to

grab as much as you can.’

And that does seem an appropriate motto for a man whose girth, to be

brutally frank, suggests a healthy appetite (at O&M, they nicknamed him

Belly O’Sway). But surprising as it may seem, he’s also a keen sportsman

- expert at skiing, golf, racket sports and racing yachts (he’s competed

in the Fastnet, no less).

The new job, he insists, provides yet another outlet for his


’I’ve always believed in challenging yourself to do things you might not

be able to manage. There’s a buzz, a rush that is highly attractive.’



Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus