CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/LUKE WHITE - McCann's creative chief aims to silence the critics. Luke White must raise both the agency's image and his own, Camilla Palmer writes

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

directorship.



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

says.



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

potential candidates.



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

boss.



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.



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