CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER - New creative chief completes RKCR's management revamp

Ben Priest is relishing the chance to oversee a large agency.

By his own admission, Ben Priest is a failed account man. Indeed, he describes with a degree of pride his inability to get to grips with the role that launched his advertising career at Ogilvy & Mather in 1991.

"They replaced me with a plant pot and told me that it would be 70 per cent more effective than I had been," he says.

Just three days into the job he realised it was a dreadful mistake and got out to pursue his dream of becoming a creative.

On the subject of his imminent move to Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R as the agency's new creative director, his feelings could not be more contrasting.

A boyish glint in his eye betrays his eagerness to take on one of the industry's top prizes, one that he describes as the "perfect fit".

On the surface, the personable 35-year-old may seem a slightly surprising appointment.

He is relatively unknown and has yet to prove himself at the top level. Yet suddenly he has been thrust into the spotlight by winning the helm of a huge agency.

True, he has earned some creative recognition thanks to strong work with his art director partner, Brian Campbell, on Thomas Cook, Holsten Pils and PlayStation while at TBWA\London. But he's not a high-profile signing.

Priest is unfazed by the suggestion he is not well enough established: "The question is: Am I the right person for the job, not am I famous enough?"

Clearly his lack of experience as a creative director is not something that concerns Mark Roalfe. The executive creative director at RKCR/Y&R says he chose Priest for the role because of his "energy, charisma and all-round ability".

"I didn't want to hire a creative director who replicated myself," he says. "It's more interesting to pick someone who is younger with more energy. Lots of creatives are good at doing the work but it's hard to find a person who is a natural presenter, a strategist and who can do the work as well. But in Ben we have found all three. He has a great creative drive and is definitely a people person, who has the ability to take on the department."

Priest's arrival completes the agency's new management line-up that was set in motion with the promotion of James Murphy to managing director back in March and the subsequent arrival of David Golding as planning director.

The next generation team has been put in place following the expiry of the founding partners' earn-out period, which kicked in after the agency's acquisition by Young & Rubicam in 1999.

Murphy, Golding and Priest will be charged with driving the agency forward, under the watchful eye of the remaining founding partners - Roalfe, the chairman, MT Rainey, and the chief executive, Jim Kelly - who can now fully explore their role of father figures, supporting from a distance.

It is a very different environment from the one Priest leaves behind at TBWA. There, under Trevor Beattie, he was one of four creative group heads, all no doubt vying for the next promotion.

However, Priest explains his decision to quit not in the terms of the career path he was pursuing there, but rather the lure of a creative directorship, particularly at RKCR/Y&R, for which he reserves a large degree of respect.

TBWA's chief operating officer, Matt Shepherd-Smith, is swift to emphasise that Campbell is not about to follow his partner out of the door; instead, the quest to find him a suitable replacement partner is already underway.

On the subject of Priest's appointment, Shepherd-Smith has no doubt it was a shrewd move on the part of RKCR/Y&R.

"There is no question that Ben is up to the job," he says. "His creative credentials are extremely strong but more than any creative I have met he is a great listener. He has a very thorough approach to everything he does and is superb with clients, which is a rare skill."

If client liaison is his forte, then Priest will find himself among good company at RKCR/Y&R. Robust client relationships are something the agency prides itself on.

Creatively, it is already in sound shape, but the reel, which is dedicated to big brand ideas rather than D&AD trophies, is solid rather than exceptional.

True, Virgin Atlantic and Land Rover are two landmark accounts secure in the stable that are performing well, but Priest admits it would be wrong to describe the agency as doing "brilliantly".

"RKCR/Y&R is a good agency that is always looking to improve," he says.

"I'm hoping to take it on to the next level, which is where all great agencies should be."

One of his first tasks will be to add to the 20-strong creative department with several new creative teams looking ahead to the next ten years of growth.

Jonathan Mildenhall, TBWA's managing director who also worked with Priest at Lowe, also believes it's a good move. "RKCR/Y&R has taken a look at what they want to stand for and the kind of position they have got in the marketplace," he says. "They are mature and professional and in Ben they have someone who matches their DNA."