Close-Up: Newsmaker - Passionate Fink takes on M&C's conservatism

Graham Fink's appointment shows that M&C Saatchi is still hung up on the glory of its past, Francesca Newland writes.

Graham Fink is exhausted. It's the end of his first day in his new job, one that kicked off with a 6am start. It has not been your run-of-the-mill first day, either: he has been rushed headlong into M&C Saatchi's repitch for the £60 million global British Airways account.

The agency had a day-and-a-half's briefing, beginning last Thursday, and M&C Saatchi's newly named creative director is going to lead the agency into battle.

From the outside, it looks as if M&C Saatchi's motivation for appointing Fink had more to do with its short-term needs on British Airways than long-term ambition to hire the perfect candidate to build its creative department into a market-leader.

But Moray MacLennan, the agency's group chairman, thinks it has met both criteria with Fink's hiring. "It helps that he could start today, but that's a happy coincidence," he says. "There will be life after 9 September (pitch day), but he'll focus on that for the next six weeks. However, it's an appointment for the long term, not a short-term tactical, knee-jerk reaction."

But if it's not to do with the BA pitch, why has it happened now? After all, Fink, MacLennan, and the agency's European chairman, Nick Hurrell, have known each other for years, working together at Saatchi & Saatchi in the late 80s and early 90s. And, as a team, they yielded some great work on Silk Cut and, importantly, the memorable "face" spot for BA.

MacLennan says M&C Saatchi approached Fink with the creative directorship two years ago. Fink turned it down and Matt Eastwood eventually took the job. Fink explains that he felt he hadn't yet established his production company, thefinktank, which has now been running for four-and-a-half years.

Fink has one of those energetic dispositions that makes him constantly think about the next thing. Some would call it itchy feet (although when applied to directing or creating ads, it equates to passion). This propensity saw him join The Paul Weiland Film Company as a director ten years ago, then saw him set up thefinktank in 2001 and theartschool in 2002.

While both ventures are ongoing concerns, Fink has decided to return to being an advertising creative. Paul Weiland thinks this is because advertising is what he does best. "He had a great time in advertising, but as a director, his profile has not been as high. It's great that he's got enough courage to go back to something he's good at," he says. This could explain why Fink decided to accept M&C Saatchi's offer this time round.

But Weiland's observation that Fink was more famous when he was working in agency life is spot-on. Not only was he behind some strong campaigns, but he also used theatre to contrive fame. Over the years, he has exhibited an unusual propensity to dress up. In 1981, Collett Dickenson Pearce turned down his job application when Fink was aged 21, saying he was too young.

Fink returned dressed as an old man and was given a job. He's famous for having dressed up as Robin Hood to attend the British Television Advertising Awards when expecting to win numerous arrows, for having worn a fur coat one summer and for having attended the opera in full Mozart regalia.

The stunts were a way for Fink to drive his fame, and with it his career.

As Robert Saville, the Mother founder who worked for Fink at Gold Greenlees Trott, puts it: "He was Trevor Beattie, pre-Beattie. The son of Don White." However, don't expect such antics now he has joined M&C Saatchi. Fink says: "Everything was of its time - now it's time for something different."

So what exactly has he got planned at M&C Saatchi? He says: "I'll make it even better. I'm bursting with energy. I will concentrate on BA for the first six weeks, but look around me and see how the agency is run, the systems that are in place and get to know the people I don't already know. Then, in September, I'll decide what changes need to be made."

Most would argue that changes are needed. Tim Mellors, Fink's former boss at GGT, says: "M&C Saatchi is kind of floundering creatively. It needs some energy."

The agency does appear to have put its creative reputation on the back burner since the departure of Eastwood in 2004. He only stayed at the agency for a few months, but instead of seeking a new creative chief, or promoting someone internally, Jeremy Sinclair, who joined the agency in the 60s, took on the job. Despite the agency's assertions to the contrary, Sinclair's role was as a caretaker only. As Mellors puts it: "It has been asleep at the wheel in that area."

Fink has undoubtedly got ample qualifications to be an excellent creative director. As Saville says: "He's got a huge amount of inspiration and energy and he fights passionately for good work. If M&C Saatchi has committed to Fink, it has committed to something huge; he's an uncompromising son of a bitch."

The other strength that gives him the potential to be a great creative director is that he's a good talent-spotter. His involvement in theartschool proves he believes in nurturing talent. Saville testifies: "He cares about the people around him, tucks them under his wing."

Mellors adds: "For someone who appears so egotistical on the outside, he's strangely generous with giving credit and bringing people on." Mellors thinks Fink has what it takes to rev the existing department up to full capacity: "Tiger Savage (the agency's head of art) is so talented, but she has virtually disappeared there. Graham will give her a chance to show her talent."

Fink has been around for a really long time, but this is partly because he was precocious (he's now 45). M&C Saatchi will benefit from his experience.

As MacLennan puts it: "Is he an old fart? Anyone who knows him knows he's highly creative through and through; he does so much other than advertising in his own life. Experience counts. I don't want someone coming in and learning to be a creative director."

Saville, meanwhile, says: "I have never known Graham to be old-fashioned. He's an eternal child and a smart creative person."

Nevertheless, his appointment should be classified as evolution, not revolution. In reappointing Sinclair as its creative director two years ago, M&C Saatchi showed its conservative colours. Hiring Fink is an improvement, but it is still an attempt to a replicate former glory. Instead of carving out a future strategy, M&C Saatchi seems reluctant to move on from its 80s brilliance. He's a solid signing, but not necessarily one that will alter the agency's character. Let's see what the BA team makes of him.

THE LOWDOWN Age: 45 Lives: Tower Bridge Family: Yes Favourite ad: Alan Waldie's Benson & Hedges "swimming pool" cinema commercial Describe yourself in three words: Very, very tall Greatest extravagance: Theartschool Interests outside work: Astronomy Living person you most admire: Francis Ford Coppola Alternative career: Plastic surgeon Last book you read: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell