Trying to get Will Awdry, Partners BDDH's new executive creative
director, to talk about the plethora of awards he's won is like trying
to get blood out of the proverbial stone.
He's won a Cannes gold for the 'shrink to fit' Levi's work and a silver
for Haagen-Dazs. Awdry has also bagged a Campaign Press silver for
Adidas and Hyundai. He's got more awards cluttering up his mantelpiece
than other envious creatives could shake their Pencils at. But when he's
pressed to list them and self-consciously refers to 'the dry,
self-regarding laundry list of my life in advertising', it becomes clear
why so many of his peers regard Awdry as a self-deprecating gentleman of
Aside from a short stint as head of copy at Leagas Delaney in 1994,
Awdry has spent most of his 14-year career at Bartle Bogle Hegarty,
staying with the agency long enough to become part of the furniture.
He's also amassed substantial digital experience through his time as the
creative director of the now defunct BBH Unlimited. But now he's leaving
one of the most admired creative agencies in the business for Partners
BDDH, historically sound enough but currently suffering from a long-term
lack of creative direction.
Last January the agency suffered the departure of Simon Green, its joint
creative director. The senior creatives Greg Milbourne and Jason
Fretwell also left the agency - a blow as their appointment was intended
to address creative issues. As if this wasn't bad enough, Jo Tanner and
Mark Dickens also jumped ship and, when John Dean himself departed, the
agency was left in dire need of a creative leader.
It's clear that Awdry is relishing the challenge of plugging this
crucial gap. 'It's never a good time to leave BBH,' he says, 'but it's
not from any sense of dissatisfaction that I'm going. There's just come
a time where I want to go to a place on my own.'
Did the previous creative exodus not present him with any misgivings
about taking the job? 'No, it doesn't concern me. The challenge is to go
in and raise standards and get Partners noticed for its creativity,' he
However, he knows he's got a tall task ahead of him. 'A lot of the work
could be better,' he admits honestly, while adding: 'Strategically it's
So what attracted him to the job? 'At its heart, the agency is
personality-led,' Awdry says enthusiastically. 'And the senior
management thinks as one. I like that sense of cross collaboration and
However, recently departed creatives paint a scenario of too many cooks
over-analysing briefs rather than relying on the judgment of creative
teams to deliver the goods. 'The management needs to give Awdry the
reins and back him 100 per cent,' Milbourne, now a senior creative at
Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, says.
He cites the Mercedes-Benz account as a case in point. 'There's no way
an iconic brand like that should be doing the advertising it is,' he
says, pointing to the over-emphasis on analysis that ends up clouding
Others have also pointed to a propensity by management to tiptoe around
clients. 'They'd say 'you can't do that, it will just upset the
client',' one source says. However, according to insiders, this approach
only served to compromise creative ideas and was the reason for The
Guardian's exit last year.
Nigel Long, the chief executive of Partners BDDH, acknowledges the
agency has lacked creative leadership for a while, but hopes Awdry will
'integrate the creative department into the agency better'. He believes
Awdry will set a standard: 'He'll bring creative relevance. His job is
to get Partners into the Premier League of creative agencies within
So what sort of creative directorship does Awdry envisage for
'It will be one inspired by the sort of leadership I have had - John
Hegarty is an astonishingly generous, constructive director of work, as
opposed to the judge that anybody can be.'
He's looking forward to getting his teeth into the client portfolio,
which includes Transport for London, Yell.com and the signature Co-op
So what does it take to turn around a creative department? 'Standards,
integrity, quality, depth - producing work that stands up to rigorous
interrogation from consumers and the industry,' Awdry says firmly.
So will he be able to pull it off? The early signs are promising.
'He has inherited a stronger creative department than you'd imagine,'
Fretwell, Milbourne's partner at Miles Calcraft, says. 'The agency has
every potential to be way better than it is,' Milbourne agrees. 'The
will and intention is there.'
Still, Awdry realises he faces a challenge. 'Oh yes - it would be
patronising and stupid to think otherwise. I am nervous, but it's good
to be - it forces you to do your best.'