Jeremy Miles was his usual magnanimous self when discussing Neil
Dawson's shock departure to TBWA/London, in the role of executive
planning director last week. However, it's not difficult to imagine some
frustration behind his comment that he is "saddened to see him go".
"I'm sure Miles Calcraft is absolutely gutted to lose him," D'Arcy
Detroit's planning director, Mike Bentley, who worked with Dawson at
Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, says. "Every agency needs a planning director
Given that Dawson was himself a stakeholder in Miles Calcraft, its
founders might have expected to keep hold of his services more easily.
However, the chance to join the management of a larger agency appears to
have been too strong a temptation.
"There's two things you can aim for," Mark Wnek, Euro's executive
creative director, says.
"Either a personal stake in an agency or a chance to play on a huge
stage. Neil needs as big a stage as possible and his name wasn't above
the door at Miles Calcraft, which meant they weren't able to keep him
when an offer like this came along."
Dawson says that the name issue was never important to him at Miles
Calcraft, which suggests he was already moving towards the "huge stage"
described by his former boss. At the same time, though, he's keen to
emphasise his respect for Miles and company. "It was a difficult
decision and not one that I took lightly," he says. "Miles Calcraft is
absolutely fantastic and without a doubt the best of the startups. It
has all the ingredients that will lead to long-term success."
If the prospect of running an international-sized agency explains much
of TBWA's appeal to Dawson, then the fact that the approach came from a
former colleague, Garry Lace, probably sealed the deal. "They're a
formidable team," Bentley says of the duo's time on the Peugeot account
"They've got strong intuitions about each other and work really well
Recently installed as the chief executive with a management line-up to
complete, Lace was in a good position to make the running with
"It's a dream hiring for me," he says. "Someone I know really well and
respect enormously but, more importantly, someone who is going to make a
massive contribution to our intellectual offering."
Five years ago it would have been hard to predict that Dawson would
become the focus of a tug of love between two of London's top agencies.
Back then, he was a well-respected market researcher with his own
company, Crucible Research, pondering a move to the agency side with
Euro. "I first met him when he was foisted on to me by a client who
suggested research," Bentley says. He was absolutely brilliant." So much
so, that Bentley claims that he himself joined Euro for the chance to
work with the pesky researcher again.
"He's had a nosebleed-like rise," Abbott Mead Vickers' board account
director Richard Schwab says of Dawson's development since then. "TBWA
is only his third job in advertising. It's not a bad rise up the ranks
from starting as a jobbing planner at Euro."
Some industry sources have pointed out that it's convenient to move to a
small startup, build a reputation quickly, and then jump to a bigger job
at a larger agency. However, Dawson's rise is better explained by his
natural talent and prodigious work rate, both testified to by former
"I think he's the most exciting strategic planner in our business
today," Wnek says. "I've never met a deeper thinker and harder worker.
After he talks to a client for ten minutes they'll trust him with their
lives and, more importantly, their brands."
"He's horribly good at new business," Bentley adds. "His nickname at
Euro was 'the nugget' because he always came up with the bit of
information that won the pitch."
Dawson's background in research might well have something to do with
this. "Research is over used and abused in this industry," he says of
his former profession. "My experience allows me to see through that and
to know when to use research and the right kind to use."
Dawson acknowledges the thrill of new business. "It's where everything
is distilled into a short period of time and is one of the most exciting
elements of the job," he says, but stresses that he is not moving to
TBWA simply to bolster the account list.
"The nature and size of the opportunity was just unmissable," he
"It's an opportunity to work as part of a management team involved with
developing the business, building the agency's strategic capability and
developing a strategy for the agency itself. That's fantastic for any
And Dawson isn't the only one confident of his prospects at TBWA.
"The prospect of Garry and Neil together is really quite frightening,"
Wnek says of his former charges. "Simon Clemmow and Johnny Hornby
leaving was a real blow to TBWA, but this is the way to make people
I can't speak too highly of a team made up of those two and Trevor
Beattie. They are just about the best in our industry."