Rule one of doing a profile: find out the subject's hobbies and
interests. Normally you get the usual "I like theatre", "I love to
read", "time with the family".
When you ask Mark Earls to list his, you know it's going to be an
interesting interview when he states "oysters". It turns out that the
new planning director at Ogilvy & Mather has a family home in Brittany
complete with its own oyster beds - and he's hooked.
Wait, it gets better. Earls is also the lead singer in a ska/punk band,
Marky Mark and his Very Big Shorts (one of the members is a nuclear
physicist and another is a cobbler). "We're not terribly brilliant,"
He manages to do all this and captain the modestly named Wandsworth Gods
Cricket Club - something he's done for the past ten years. Oh, and he's
just finished his first book, titled: The Death of Marketing: A Handbook
for the Creative Age.
Yet, between all this, he finds the time to be a planner as well.
Starting his career as a trainee at Grey Worldwide London in 1984, he
stayed two years before moving to Boase Massimi Pollit, then to CDP,
then on to Ammirati & Puris before climbing to the lofty height of board
planning director at Bates Dorland in 1995. In 1999, St Luke's poached
him to head planning alongside Phil Teer.
Sounds interesting, doesn't he? That's why Paul Simons, the chief
executive and chairman of O&M, hired him. "Personality plays a big part.
When we started looking, we looked at some of the best people around but
you get down to personalities," Simons says.
"He can be self-effacing and disarming in conversation," Simons
"Mark has got the rare ability to justify an intellectual viewpoint on a
business issue at the same time as coming across as a good bloke."
It seems that Earls is also not at all intimidated by the prospect of
giving O&M some direction in its planning leadership after a period of
churn. Janet Grimes, who was promoted to planning director in late 1999,
left in December 2000 to join a digital and interactive consultancy. She
ran the department day to day while Beth Barr - a former head of
planning at the London agency - was recalled from a stint as head of
planning for Europe, Africa and the Middle East from to be executive
Barry, meanwhile, left the agency in July to join WPP-owned Coley Porter
So why did Earls leave St Luke's? "I joined to help write chapter two
and that was a rethink of the company and where it was going. It was a
really interesting challenge but we had completed it, I just thought
that after David (Abraham, one of the founders) left, I was never going
to get a better chance to do the book," he says.
Was Abraham's - now the general manager of Discovery Networks Europe -
departure behind his decision to leave? "It was another trigger, yes.
But I'm ambitious and I really wanted to do this book," he says.
Earls turned down O&M when he was first approached but changed his
"O&M is committed to doing something exciting," he says. But according
to Earls' previous comments in articles, O&M is the sort of agency that
commits the most sins.
For example, he says that most agencies have on average 2.5 creatives
per planner and that this is too low. O&M's ratio is even smaller so it
looks like it is a long way from being his ideal agency. "Oh,
absolutely," he admits. "I like challenges - there's no point doing it
otherwise. That's what makes it interesting."
So is he looking to try and mould O&M? "Yes. Lots of people doing other
jobs can contribute to the creative invention that agencies get paid
for. Really talented people are only being used at the moment in terms
of their ability to run projects - they can contribute more."
Earls feels that planners are not treated as they should be in
advertising and that's why there are now just as many outside
advertising as there are in. "Agencies don't resource planning properly.
But then this is hardly surprising considering that most boards are full
of people who are not planners. They just want someone to be blindingly
brilliant - and then go back to their box."
But Earls won't commit to increasing the O&M planning department. "The
first thing we have to do is get people working together more
When the conversation turns to the future of planning, Earls gets
"Planners know less and less about research and the analytic tools that
gave them the excuse to be at the table in the first place. This is
worrying. Somebody's got to be able to do this."
He calls this the rise of "Gonzo planning", where just hanging out and
being bright will somehow do. "Saying you don't like focus groups isn't
a good argument. You've got to be good at them and know where their
weaknesses and their strengths are," he says.
So it sounds like Simons has bagged a good candidate. However, John
Ward, the head of the consultancy The Emergency Ward, who worked with
Earls for three years when he was the deputy chairman at Bates, has some
words of warning: "I think he is a much better thinker and presenter
than he is a departmental manager - although I think he's very good at
being a departmental manager.
Don't hire him in a role that's going to involve him in ten hours of
administration a day. It's a waste of his talent."