CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER - MALCOLM POYNTON. O&M's creative chief is ruthless man of principle

O&M needs Poynton to turn its fortunes round quickly, Francesca Newland writes.

Dave Droga is talented, charming, a natural leader and very good at playing office politics. That is why he has succeeded in changing Saatchi & Saatchi's image in London from drab to sharp and getting a massive promotion to head Publicis' creative output on a global basis.

The fact that Droga is Australian is irrelevant. But with a slew of London's creative directorships recently going to Antipodeans, it appears that some headhunters and chief executives attribute Droga's success to his provenance.

The latest such appointment is Malcolm Poynton, who has been hired to fill the long-vacant creative directorship of Ogilvy & Mather. He's a New Zealander and was most recently the executive creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi in Sydney.

However, he's not a stranger to these shores, having worked for five years at M&C Saatchi between 1996 and 2001 - latterly as the deputy creative director. Like Grey's new creative director, Dave Alberts, he's a friend of Droga, who jokingly describes him as the quintessential art director: good-looking and immaculately turned out.

When Saatchis' global creative head, Bob Isherwood, persuaded Poynton to take the job in Sydney two years ago, his new agency was in a shambles.

He was given a target of three years to turn it around and he claims to have achieved that goal a year ahead of schedule so feels ready to move back to the UK and take on the challenge waiting for him at O&M.

Poynton is no shrinking violet. When he arrived in Sydney, as one contemporary remembers it, he put the entire creative department on notice. Poynton says this is an exaggeration and explains that, in reality, he imposed a kind of clean slate on the department - past glories or embarrassments were put to one side - and told his new team that they had 90 days to impress him, after which he gave them a formal assessment.

He says it worked: "I didn't know anyone there, so rather than have people push their own reputation or colour other people's, you have to start from scratch. The scheme transformed teams that were under-performing."

Sure enough, the agency's work improved considerably under his stewardship, and new business began to trickle in. He doesn't believe O&M in London needs the same strict treatment, however.

But with such ruthless tactics, it's not surprising that Poynton has his share of detractors. He has a reputation for standing by his principles and sometimes rubbing people up the wrong way in the process. There's a slight cloud surrounding his latter days in Sydney. He had been offered a very senior global role on Procter & Gamble. Poynton believes this demonstrated the faith the network had in him, owing to the significance of P&G to its bottom line.

Others, however, believe he was being moved from Sydney because of a run-in he had with the local Toyota client. Poynton says this is not the case, but admits that Toyota is "set in its ways" and suffers from an "uneasiness about change".

However, he explains his eagerness to leave Saatchis not in terms of the new role he was being offered there, but rather the lure of a London creative directorship, particularly at O&M, for which he reserves a lot of respect: "It's a very strong brand and this is a good opportunity to make it everything it once was."

There's no doubt that his fast turnaround of Saatchis Australia compelled Paul Jackson, O&M's chief executive, to hire Poynton. Jackson says: "He had a tough brief in Sydney. It was a difficult agency to turn around, which bears some parallel to where we are."

Jackson was appointed to replace the former O&M group chairman, Paul Simons, a year ago. He parted with its then creative director, Steve Dunn, three months later, but has taken until now to pick a creative director.

Although some believe this is because the agency's problems put candidates off, Jackson attributes it to the thoroughness of his search and his determination to find the right person.

He is satisfied that together with the agency's group planning chief, Mark Earls, O&M now has a strong triumvirate in place that can return the agency to its rightful glory. "He's my creative partner. He's part of a team of people that can turn around the agency. The revival is not about him coming in and writing great creative work, that's only part of it. It's about Mark and Jane (Cunningham, the head of planning) and me and Malcolm inspiring the agency," Jackson says.

Poynton says he hasn't got a fixed strategy: "I'm very much a believer of work doing the work. I've no crazy methodology, I'm going to get in there and get on with it. It will take a little while but it's about finding the best way for getting people to do the best they can do."

Those who know him have faith in Poynton's creative talent and his ability to lead a department, so it appears that O&M's lengthy search may well pay off. But the problems at the agency in London run deep: a year on from Jackson's accession, it's no longer losing any business, but neither is it acquiring any. The triumvirate is in place, now it needs to act fast and prove its worth.