CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKERS/TONY BARRY AND DAMON COLLINS - Can Lowe's new creative chiefs restore its culture?

Barry and Collins take the reins at a difficult time for the agency.

Making your way in the ad business when you're the offspring of a well-known industry figure isn't always an easy burden to bear. Comparisons are inevitably drawn and there are reputations to be lived up to or lived down. Tony Barry and Damon Collins know all about that.

It's just as well since the pair are taking the creative helm of Lowe as it attempts to sustain - some would say restore - the creative culture laid down by its eponymous father figure, Sir Frank.

Barry and Collins are both relatives of adland luminaries. Barry's mother is Beth Barry, the former Ogilvy & Mather executive planning director; Collins is the son of Ron Collins, the fearsome founding creative partner of WCRS.

Everybody agrees that Collins junior is no chip off the old block. People who know him say his charm and popularity is complemented by an unquenchable enthusiasm for what he does.

And there's no question Barry and Collins have earned their stripes.

Both already possessed a creative pedigree even before they joined Lowe two years ago and their work since - including Heineken "blackmail" and the launches of Nestle Double Cream and Tesco's Cherokee clothing range - has marked them out for the front rank.

Certainly, their appointment is being met with relief; the Lowe creative department has lacked day-to-day leadership since Charles Inge's departure 14 months ago.

Paul Weinberger, Lowe's chairman and its former creative chief, has been caretaking the department but is not seen as the figure to drive it forward.

"Weinberger is a bit dull and has never been a particularly popular creative director," a former Lowe senior creative claims. "The department's morale has dipped since Inge left and will relish the prospect of new leadership. Weinberger has been worn down by it."

For Barry and Collins there are obvious challenges and handicaps to overcome.

Not least because the pair weren't the first choice.

Indeed, the manner in which they were catapulted into the role last week leads one former Lowe senior manager to describe it as a "patch-up job".

Nick Bell, Leo Burnett's joint creative director, famously rejected Lowe's advances in 2001 and conversations with a possible external candidate were going on until recently. Vince Squibb, the agency's long-serving and highly rated creative, ruled himself out of contention, fearing the job would get in the way of his directing aspirations.

Barry agrees that the pair were awestruck by the scale of what they are taking on but still regard it as a natural career progression. "We'd never been creative directors before and this is a big job," he says.

Certainly, the agency found itself faced with a paucity of suitable candidates.

Moreover, Chris Thomas, the chief executive, was unable to give his full attention to the matter as Lowe battled to retain its share of the £60 million Vauxhall business in the UK and to service the £43 million Orange account after the loss of key senior managers on the business.

Thomas' contention that Barry and Collins have a "bloody tough job" on their hands is no exaggeration. For one thing there's the question of what happens to Tesco's "Dotty" campaign starring Prunella Scales, which is starting to show its age. "It's a good vehicle in need of some good scripts," an ex-Lowe executive remarks. For another, there's the question of whether or not the pair can make the adjustment from practitioners to managers.

The consensus is that Lowe's current creative output has been patchy. The agency drew much sympathy over the loss of its Weetabix business after the acclaimed "Withabix" campaign, while much of the recent Orange work had the agency's hallmark elegance. So what's missing? "I think it's lost some of its edginess," Alfredo Marcantonio, a former Lowe creative chief, says.

Collins acknowledges that Lowe creatives are in need of energising. "We want to engage the department and get everybody fired up," he says. "Our first priority is to get the very best work out of the teams that we can."

However, some fear the promotion of Barry and Collins could continue the hiatus. "They've been responsible for much of Lowe's best recent work," a former senior creative at the agency points out. "Can they continue producing it in their new roles? If not, who can?"

In the pair's favour is their rapport with clients. There's also a feeling that Weinberger's continued presence can shield them from the worst of the agency's politics and keep them at arm's length from the mercurial Frank Lowe.

What's more, Ken Hoggins, Lowe's last joint creative director along with Chris O'Shea, believes a duo will do a better job. "It's a big department and two people in charge makes it more manageable," he says. Inge, who hired and paired Barry and Collins, claims they mirror each other perfectly. "Because they're good friends who work well together they'll be a very single-minded team," he predicts.

Others, though, contrast Collins' generosity of spirit with Barry's perceived self-serving streak. "It's an unfortunate trait of a precocious talent," a former associate comments. "Creative directors can't afford to be selfish."

What's certain is that a lot rides on the pair. Many who know the agency fear its culture has been diluted by the departures of key managers who were steeped in it. "Lowe is capable of rising again," a one-time manager comments. "I just hope it has the people to do it."


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