Close-Up: Newsmaker - Langdon polishes his reputation for ruthlessness

Euro RSCG London staff may be feeling more than a little nervous.

In abandoning his partners and the agency he founded only ten weeks ago, Ben Langdon demonstrated the exact characteristic that Jim Heekin, Euro RSCG's global chief, has hired him for: ruthlessness.

Langdon, famous for building McCann-Erickson into a lean, client-focused top-two London agency, was last week named as the chairman of Euro RSCG Worldwide UK.

He is the first major appointment since Heekin took over from Bob Schmetterer at the helm of the Euro RSCG Worldwide network, part of the crisis-hit Havas.

Reporting into Heekin, his former boss at McCann, Langdon's brief is to oversee Havas' UK operations, including the ad agency, EHS Brann and KLP Euro RSCG. Heekin explains: "I want Ben to make the whole better than the sum of its parts."

There's no doubt, however, that most of his attention will be focused on turning the Euro RSCG London advertising agency into a slicker operation.

Created from the merger last year of Partners BDDH and Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, the agency is not faring badly, but neither is it delivering the kind of returns it needs to as Havas' principal UK office.

Heekin explains: "It is number six in London and it's not as on the map as it could be." He wants Langdon to work with the creative director, Nick Hastings (whom, ironically, Langdon fired years ago when they were both at CDP), to build a stronger creative reputation.

Heekin's decision to hire Langdon is not surprising. During Langdon's tenure at McCann, the agency moved from 14th place to second in London, and Heekin needs him to replicate that success at Euro. After all, with Havas' recent profits warnings as a constant spectre, Heekin is going to need the ad agency to perform quickly and profitably. He says: "Ben is a driver. The job he did at McCann was a hell of a feat. I have a sense of urgency to get done what needs to be done at Euro." In keeping with this, the pair wasted no time and Langdon took up his new role on Monday.

Langdon sits above Chris Pinnington, the chief executive of Euro RSCG Worldwide UK. Terry Hunt, the chairman of the direct marketing agency EHS Brann, has been overseeing the below-the-line operations. Then, at the ad agency, there are the chief executive, Nigel Long, and two managing directors, Simon Toaldo and Adam Leigh.

But it was by employing his straightforward management style, however, that Langdon managed to turn McCann around quickly. This has left staff at Euro RSCG London quaking in their boots at the prospect of his accession.

One senior agency creative voices this sentiment: "If I were an employee of Euro RSCG London, I would get out now."

Langdon's most recent venture, Ben Mark Orlando, or rather his departure from it, has provoked yet more gasps at his ruthlessness. In taking the job his partner Mark Wnek vacated in the autumn to launch Ben Mark Orlando, Langdon is demonstrating that he truly does not care what anyone thinks of him. That characteristic comes in handy when your brief is to turn around an under-performing company.

One former McCann colleague says he is highly intelligent and has the energy, enthusiasm and persistence to make good pitches brilliant. He will do whatever it takes to get it right.

He says he can be brutal and draws a comparison with the Manchester United boss, Alex Ferguson, who "kicks boots around but has been very successful".

He adds: "Ferguson's not seen as a bully. Langdon gets rid of people but the result is a good team."

Heekin is not put off by Langdon's reputation: "Urgency, taken to the extreme, can be construed as brusqueness. Cruelty? I've not seen that. He doesn't suffer fools well and is a perfectionist. No-one works harder than he does and he expects that from the people around him."

If raw ambition is the main driver to Langdon's success, his ability with senior clients is a close second. He has a serious manner, the kind that inspires confidence from clients. He speaks succinctly and professionally and can maintain his calm no matter how tense the situation. His decision to quit Ben Mark Orlando has burned some bridges with Bacardi, a move he will not have taken at all lightly.

There's no doubt that Langdon is back in the surroundings that suit him best. At Ben Mark Orlando, he missed the access to the bosses of giant corporations that he loved at McCann. He also missed the trappings of senior agency life: a large rumuneration package and support staff to deal with the tedious details of running a company.

Langdon knew his decision did not look good; he declined to be interviewed for this piece, but told Campaign last week: "I've made a bit of a pig's ear of this one ... I now know that I am better suited to the environment of multinational agencies, where I can work with big clients facing major issues ... I am not a natural entrepreneur."

Wnek and Langdon, not to mention Orlando Hooper-Greenhill, the planning partner, clearly did not know each other well before they started up.

Langdon and Wnek started talks more than a year ago, not about doing a start-up, but about Wnek joining McCann in a pan-European role. Although the talks came to nothing, the pair stayed in touch.

Wnek felt he had nowhere left to go at Euro, and that he'd fallen out of touch with being a creative. Langdon, even before his ousting from McCann in June, was talking about a start-up, but only in the vaguest terms.

One of the triggers for Langdon's departure from McCann was his suggestion that the agency be renamed McCann Langdon. One version of the story is that the full name was to be McCann Langdon Wnek. Such a suggestion was anathema to McCann, which prides itself on its global consistency, but the idea appeared to lodge an entrepreneurial seed more firmly in Langdon's head.

From the start, Wnek was committed to the idea and process of doing a start-up. For Langdon, meanwhile, it seemed like more of a back-up plan.

He was engaged in talks with Publicis in November when Campaign published the story of their launch. The story appears to have forced Langdon's hand as Publicis failed to make him a formal offer.

Still, Ben Mark Orlando got off to a very healthy start. Within weeks, the agency picked up work from Bacardi, one of Langdon's long-term clients at McCann. They also came close to securing the Ocado account, which was awarded to Ogilvy & Mather last week once Langdon's defection was announced.

Nevertheless, by February, talks with Publicis had resumed. Langdon kept Wnek in the loop this time round, but Wnek concluded that he was not interested in returning to large agency life, nor working for another French holding company.

Although the Publicis job went to Tim Lindsay, the talks exposed Langdon's true ambition, and it wasn't long before Wnek discovered that Langdon was talking to Euro RSCG and Heekin behind his back.

As Heekin puts it: "Ben has a tremendous desire to prove just how good he is." The failure of Ben Mark Orlando will make him keener than ever to prove his ability and turn Euro RSCG into a famous London agency.


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