Saatchi & Saatchi is getting good at hiring people whom the UK ad industry has never heard of. First up was the executive creative director, Dave Droga, who pitched up in 1999 from the network's Singapore office to revamp its creative department. Then came the chairman, James Hall, who arrived two years ago from New Zealand to restructure the agency. Martin Cotter, an unknown financial whizz-kid, was promoted from its in-house production house, TFG, to group chief executive last year.
Now it's found some bloke called Tony Granger, of Bozell/New York, to replace Droga as the executive creative director.
For Granger, turning up on a new continent to run the creative department of a big agency is all in a day's work. He's already moved his wife, Claire, and their three children across the globe once, and he's no stranger to people in the ad community shaking their heads in puzzlement and whispering: "What did you say his name was?"
In 2001 he left his South African homeland, where he was the executive creative director of TBWA/Hunt/Lascaris, to take the creative helm at Interpublic's struggling agency in the US and made it the most successful US agency in Cannes for that year. Undaunted by an unfamiliar country and market, Granger set to work and during his 18 months at Bozell flattened the creative hierarchy, overhauled its output and attempted, with the chief executive, Tom Bernadin, to create a better balance between account management and creativity.
The New York Times' advertising correspondent and Campaign columnist, Stuart Elliott, says that although Granger might not have made an impression on the social scene of US adland, he did lots to raise the profile of Bozell. "It was a bit of a shock when they hired this guy from South Africa - it was like the geeky girl at high school who got asked to the Prom by the star football player - but the gamble paid off. His departure will be a big loss to them."
Although senior executives are keen to assert they are not hiring a Droga clone, there are parallels to be drawn. Droga himself arrived in the UK as an unknown with a specific brief to up Saatchis' creative ante. Three years on, and now that Droga is off, Granger will have the difficult job of continuing the momentum, helping to win more business and awards.
Granger's attitude is demonstrated when weighing up the odds of taking a job at Bozell with the luxury of a history at South Africa's most creative agency. Bozell had no car, fashion or irline accounts, and instead of seeing the negative aspects of the work involved in getting them, Granger embraced the challenge. This will be handy at Saatchis, which, while improving its creative pedigree on some accounts, still needs to punch its weight in new-business terms.
Granger's string of plaudits, which include 24 Cannes Lions, nine of them golds, clearly impressed Saatchis' worldwide chief, Kevin Roberts, and the worldwide creative director, Bob Isherwood. The two swooped with a job offer as soon as Droga resigned.
While not planning any drastic action, Granger's task will be to continue Droga's creative resurgence at Saatchis, and ensure the UK office turns out some award-winning work for its bigger clients, such as Procter & Gamble, which Droga never got to grips with.
"More and more clients are realising that their last competitive weapon is really creative work with cut-through," Granger says. "And that means they are willing to afford their agencies more free reign. They need to be brave."
"Of course, awards are one goal, but if the work's good enough, it shouldn't make a jot of difference what the client is. I love categories which aren't considered sexy - they're so ripe for improvement," he stresses.
Encouraging big clients to think beyond packshots is something Granger has proved he can do. "His work on big clients such as the telecoms company Verizon and Bank of America in the US was groundbreaking," Droga says.
"He persuaded big clients to stick their necks out with some great work, which requires a combination of raw talent and the ability to think strategically."
Granger is looking forward to working with Droga's 32-team-strong department.
"Some of the best creative people in the world work here," he enthuses.
Droga claims his pack of curious creatives will be kind to Granger, the new boy. "They used up all their cynicism on me when I was Johnny Foreigner," he laughs.
Although he has yet to build the kind of profile Droga enjoys here, Granger is sanguine about the task of making friends and earning respect in the UK's creative playground. "All I can do is my best and focus on the work," he sighs. "It's going to be a wonderful experience working within a finely tuned agency, but I won't deny it's not daunting. In fact, I'm a bit nervous."