Close-Up: Profile - Can Hunter reboot the Euro RSCG turnaround?

At last, Mark Cadman and Russ Lidstone have named their new creative director. Can he cut it, James Hamilton asks?

If Mark Cadman and Russ Lidstone are feeling the strain of having spent the past year wrestling with the tiller of a once-struggling network shop, they don't show it.

Relaxed and smiling, they give little outward indication of the struggles they've encountered in the 12 months since they joined Euro RSCG London as the chief executive and chief strategy officer, respectively.

That's not to say the pair can afford to put their feet up - far from it - but they say they're proud of what they've achieved so far.

A year ago, Euro RSCG London was in a perilous state. Rudderless for six months following Ben Langdon's ousting as the chairman in September 2005, the agency was haemorrhaging business. The £56 million Credit Suisse account went to McCann Erickson; the £35 million Argos account to Clemmow Hornby Inge. These blows were compounded when the Man from Del Monte said a firm "no". He was joined by Cadbury, Matalan and Travelodge in quick succession. When they joined, the agency was all set to post a large loss.

"There was nothing holding the agency together," a Euro source says. "The previous regime was hugely adversarial and confrontational, and people just burrowed down and hid."

Cadman stresses he and Lidstone had been well briefed as to the problems they would face at the beleaguered London office. "I don't think there were any nasty surprises for us when we got here," he says. Just a big job.

Together, they formulated a five- point plan: address the lack of sense of purpose and insufficient focus on the creative output; motivate the management team; "exit" poor performing staff and hire talent; turn around the financial position; and address the near total lack of digital capability following Euro RSCG 4D's departure to EHS Brann, the direct marketing arm of the Euro group.

Lidstone immediately came up with a rebrand for the agency around the concept of "contagion" - engaging ideas that deliver a high return on investment - although this positioning has never been widely trumpeted beyond chemistry meetings and pitches.

Cadman says he has improved the financial situation by £1.2 million - the agency will now make a small profit. And, although the margins could be better, Lidstone says that Havas "hasn't turned the bunsen burner on the financial performance".

Much of that financial turnaround has resulted from better negotiated contracts with clients. The legroom has allowed Cadman to cull some of the more "dysfunctional" elements of the team he inherited and make a number of appointments: four new planners; 14 new faces in the account management team; five new creative teams and nine new staff in the TV department. These stand alongside key signings including Mike Smith, who joined from WCRS as the marketing director, and Adam Roberts, who joined as a digital creative director to add much-needed clout to Euro RSCG's weak online offering.

The big hire - the executive creative director that everyone expected to be first on Cadman's list of priorities - took a year.

Mark Hunter, who joined last month from Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam, is a solid signing for Euro. His creative credentials are impressive and he will complement the more patricianly and measured approach of his predecessor, Gerry Moira, who remains in the agency as the creative chairman, a fitting role for someone whose knowledge and opinion is valued equally by creative teams and clients alike.

But the 12 months it took to find Hunter raised eyebrows. And nowhere higher than in the New York office of the Euro RSCG Worldwide chief executive, David Jones, who, it's said, has been pushing for decisive action in the creative department since Cadman joined.

"David's pace is incredible, you can't work for him in a cautious way," a colleague says. "Mark has been too cautious - he wants to go out to market selling a perfect model, but you can't do that," the source adds.

That said, Jones spent a long time finding his men for the London office. And Cadman stresses that he's under no undue timescale pressures from New York.

"Mark wants to do things at his own pace. He's there for the long-term build, not the one-year blast, then decline," a colleague says.

"We're really enjoying it, because we feel ownership," Cadman says. "We enjoy more freedom than we could possibly have had with any other network agency. David is very much letting us get on with it. Of course he'd like quick results, but he's happy with where we are."

For his part, Hunter is keen to join in the next stage of the fight - raising the creative bar and getting stuck into big pitches. Euro is pitching on Yakult and 3, and made it on to the Morrison's shortlist, although the wins - Staples, EDF Energy and Weight Watchers - have been on the small side.

"The new-business record ought to be better," a Euro insider says. "We do need one big, iconic, creative campaign and one big win," Cadman agrees. "I think the win will be the thing that delivers that campaign."

"For me, Euro is really well positioned to make a big leap forward," Hunter says. "I say that because that's the collective desire of all the key people in the London office and, in my opinion, that's probably the most important ingredient for actually doing it."

The Canadian-born Hunter is also ready for this leap. During his time at W&K, he was the creative director on the global Nike business, most recently overseeing the "Joga Bonito" World Cup campaign that stretched beyond traditional television ads into online and events.

His "traditional" credentials are also strong: before joining W&K, Hunter was teamed with Tony McTeer, now the TBWA\London joint creative director, at Bartle Bogle Hegarty. There, the pair created the iconic Levi's "twist" campaign, earning armfuls of gongs in the process.

His credentials are good, so why did Hunter decide to wade into the fight to make a network office great again? "At this point in my career, I want to be in a position where I'm more able to effect change on the creative direction of an entire agency," Hunter explains.

To do that, he considered three options: launch a start-up; open a new office for an existing agency or join somewhere established that is attempting to take creative steps forward.

"I met with agencies in all three categories in Europe and the US and in the end, it came down to a question of the people I'd be working with," he continues. "Mark and Russ and all the senior management in London, New York and Paris are excellent people, and they were all totally consistent in articulating their commitment to making Euro RSCG London a creative leader within the network."

Cadman and Lidstone acknowledge that Hunter's appointment is just a part of the jigsaw puzzle, but it is a key one. Along with the iconic campaign they hope he'll deliver and the business win they hope they'll get with 3, they say the agency needs to widen its margin, hire more senior women and embrace communications planning.

"This time next year, Rodney," Cadman says, doing his best Delboy Trotter impression, "we'll all be millionaires."

That might be stretching it, but you'd be hard pressed to find anyone betting against them trying.

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