When it comes to the topic of Lee Daley, the former McCann-Erickson
senior manager who has just taken charge of WPP's Red Cell network,
there are few neutrals.
The one-time account man turned strategic planner polarises opinion.
At one of his previous agencies, bosses had to remove him from certain
pieces of business because his forthright views were said to be needling
some clients too much. Others, though, couldn't get enough of his
passion and commitment.
Indeed, he's said to possess so much of it he reduced one McCann client
to tears with the emotional power of his presentation.
On some things, though, there is almost universal agreement. Daley, 38,
is exceptionally bright, nakedly ambitious, a workaholic and a deft
handler of the kind of big international clients that Red Cell seeks to
add to its roster.
"If anybody can give Red Cell the leadership it needs, it's Lee,"
Malcolm Summerfield, the former McCann chief executive who is now the
chairman of Summerfield Wilmot Keene, says.
A member of a Grimsby fishing family, Daley has Robin Wight to thank for
his entry into the business after he was hired as a WCRS graduate
trainee in 1986. A spell at Manchester's Bowden Dyble Hayes - now
BDH/TBWA - honed his experience of integrated marketing and he went on
to join DMB&B, then enjoying a renaissance under Graham Hinton and Tony
His reputation flourished at Cromer & Company in the early 90s. "He was
cool and unconventional but he had some interesting ideas," Gary
Stolkin, the agency's managing director, recalls.
Daley followed the agency into its merger with the McCann London office
where his new masters quickly spotted his potential.
Assigned to the agency's Van den Bergh account, he played a key role in
orchestrating its reaction to the controversial banning by the
Independent Television Commission of 1992's "I can't believe it's not
The Unilever subsidiary went on the offensive by running full-page ads
in the national press featuring stills from the commercial. "Lee had a
lot more to do with that than anybody realises," a McCann colleague at
the time says.
But it was his sojourn in New York that proved to be the defining period
of his career. He arrived in December 1994 on a Kummel scholarship,
which allows McCann executives to broaden their experience in foreign
He immediately impressed David Warden, then running McCann's New York
office and now acting chairman for the UK and Ireland. "He was not only
razor-sharp but passionate about the business and about creativity," he
says. "There was no way I was going to let him come back to the UK."
The late Peter Kim, hired from J. Walter Thompson to transform McCann's
global strategy, was Daley's mentor and gave him his introduction to
planning on the grand scale.
Thoughts of an early return to Britain were banished as he first took
charge of the $100 million L'Oreal global account before going on
to run Amster Yard. Set up as a creative boutique by the then McCann
chairman, John Dooner, the agency's raison d'etre was Coca-Cola.
Dooner's gameplan was to hold the agency in reserve and ready to offer
to McCann's giant drinks client which, at the time, was looking beyond
its core networks for creative solutions. Coke never took up the option
although Amster Yard did put on more than $130 million worth of
business in two years and produced a successful global campaign for
Daley was called back to McCann in London by Jim Heekin, then the
network's European boss, as chief strategic officer for Europe, the
Middle East and Africa, and put in charge of Nestle's global business as
well as General Motors across Europe. But those who knew him sensed a
restlessness that McCann would not be able to contain.
Some suggest Daley's departure in July reflected the fact that the
agency was not big enough to accommodate two such giant egos as those of
Daley and Ben Langdon, then the UK chairman.
"They might get pissed together talking about Manchester United and Lee
was one of the few people whose intellect Ben respected," a former
colleague says. "But there was real rivalry between them."
Others believe that Daley was just too much of a livewire for McCann's
confining environment. "He was always difficult to place within our
structure," a McCann senior executive acknowledges.
Daley says he simply wanted a brief spell away from perpetual plane
trips to spend the summer with his wife and two small children. However,
he confesses to an irresistible urge to try something new and shrugged
aside job offers from both sides of the Atlantic, including one from Leo
Burnett, to take up Sir Martin Sorrell's offer to run Red Cell.
He approaches the job with typical enthusiasm. He's convinced that Red
Cell's offering to "challenger" brands couldn't be more apposite and
that the network is an ideal vehicle for developing his ideas about
allying advertising more closely with the entertainment industry.
"The Red Cell product hasn't been clearly defined enough for clients,"
he says. "That's my job."
If there's a downside to Daley's appointment, it's that he's never had
to manage people on such a scale before. The upside is an almost
obsessive desire to keep clients happy. "He'll kick, scream and cajole,"
an associate predicts. "But he'll also inspire."