Luke White is starting as he means to go on as the newly promoted
executive creative director at McCann-Erickson London. Working on a
pitch in the morning, White is then on a plane to Scandinavia for the
next two days. Clearly he's coping with the strain of trying to be in
several places at once.
"Luke is no stranger to hard work and is totally unflappable," says
former colleague Carl Le Blond, who, along with White, was one of the
three creatives who ran the department at McCann's London office until
the end of last year. It was part of a unique, split management strategy
implemented by the European chairman and chief executive, Ben Langdon,
two years previously.
White will need to be unflappable - and more. Despite creating the
Bacardi tom-cat, McCann's most celebrated campaign in recent memory, his
profile outside the agency has remained incredibly low. All that is set
to change as he takes on one of the toughest jobs in advertising.
McCann-knocking has become an instinctive pastime of the creative
community over the years - and White's new role will require doses of
inspiration, diplomacy and toughness as he attempts to gain some
creative ground for the agency's long list of multinational clients.
White knows this better than most. He joined McCann in 1994 after
working for FCB in Sydney and the UK. Since then he's been quietly
turning out many of the agency's key campaigns, including Bacardi,
Motorola and Snack Stop.
White was also a key figure in Langdon's experiment with split
management, which was initiated by a belief that a sole creative
director could not handle all clients in all markets. White, along with
the former DMB&B creative Le Blond and Jeremy Perrot, formed the
triumvirate to which Mike Court then ceded his creative
The trial ended in some confusion early this year as Le Blond left to
direct full time and White himself moved to head McCann's youth
marketing off-shoot, Magic Hat. Perrot was left to head a department
that appeared to have lost its sense of purpose.
Langdon fiercely defends the rationale behind his alternative creative
strategy. However, his decision to bring back White as sole creative
director seems to confirm the need for a more traditional structure for
the department. Perrot will move to a more international role as White
is given the task of galvanising the London troops. This is sock
pulling-up time and no mistake.
White is fully aware of the work to be done to bring McCann's creative
offering up to speed with its peers. "I know how to work on our
strengths, which include working on big brands on a number of levels,
and use them to help our weakness of not winning enough awards," he
Langdon is convinced that White is the right man for this job, as is the
chairman and chief executive elect, Tamara Ingram, who gave the go-ahead
for his appointment last week. "It is a natural evolution for Luke,"
Langdon says. "I've seen him grow into a person who can ably do the
job." For an agency that has bought in plenty of creative talent in an
attempt to rejuvenate its offering, there is an optimism that one of
their own should have grown to fill the role.
White admits another top priority lies in restructuring the creative
department to compliment the return to a more conventional management
framework. This means the end of floating creative teams and the
formation of clear groups, each of which will be run by a group head. He
also wants to hire a head of art, but won't be drawn on his list of
His enthusiasm for digital media and its opportunities will mean that
White remains partly involved in Magic Hat, but envisages a move to
promote from the "wealth" of talent in its creative department. It is
thought the off-shoot will remain a priority for McCann, with a possible
expansion into Europe mooted by insiders.
White is seemingly unfazed by the prospect of running a department of
long-term colleagues and friends, one of whom, Court, used to be his
In fact, White is convinced his long track record will enable him to hit
the ground running, even though his involvement in Magic Hat has taken
him away from the field for most of the year.
"Hiring an outsider means a long period of readjustment while they get
to know the people, the work and the clients. I know everyone here, so I
can get stuck into the job," he says.
Getting stuck in seems rooted in White's nature. "He doesn't
procrastinate and pontificate," Langdon says. "He gets straight to the
heart of the issue." With Langdon known for his similarly direct
approach, these could be crucial attributes in the job. White's reputed
people skills with both clients and colleagues will also be invaluable
in the top role.