Close-Up: Profile - Leaving the Mother ship to be the creative chief

Has Mother taught Damon Collins the client-facing skills he'll need in his new ECD role at RKCR/Y&R?

For Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R the appointment of Damon Collins as the executive creative director, after a couple of weeks of hand-wringing legal wranglings, is a case of two down, one to go.

For Collins, it's a step back into running the creative department of a top London agency after a couple of years as a creative at Mother, overseeing the Boots account.

Collins is trading a comfortable position at an incredibly stable agency for a managerial role at one which is in a state of flux. Recently, James Murphy, the chief executive, David Golding, the executive planning director, and Ben Priest, the executive creative director, left to launch their own agency at the start of 2008.

However, the remaining management, Mark Roalfe, a founder and still the chairman, Alison Hoad, the head planner, and Tony Harris, the deputy chairman, quickly filled the chief executive role with the promotion of Richard Exon, who had only just been appointed as the managing director.

"It's not as if he's walking into a broken agency. It was well documented that we talked to a lot of people, but we knew as soon as we met Damon that he would fit in. He fits our 'No arseholes' policy," Roalfe says.

One of RKCR/Y&R's strengths under the old management team was the involvement of clients in the strategic and creative process from day one, making them feel as if they were part of the team.

Such a collaborative approach has led to what both clients and agency staff describe as a "family vibe" at the agency.

Collins' predecessor, Priest, worked well in this environment. As a former suit, he had a strong connection with many of the agency's clients. There are those who question whether Collins will be able to fulfil this role to the fullest.

A source close to the agency says: "It may look as if RKCR/Y&R has filled roles and it's business as usual, but there is still a lot of disruption. Richard and Damon will have a tough job convincing both the clients and the staff about the new management team."

If he has any concerns, Roalfe isn't showing them. He sounds truly excited about the new blood and the direction in which it could send the agency.

"Collins' respect, his creative talent and his human touch are the key skills that will make him a success at RKCR/Y&R," Roalfe says.

"He has a great heritage and commands a lot of respect. He's a creative's creative. When we told the department that we'd chosen him, they were very excited."

Collins is also relaxed about the move. "Ben's close relationship with the clients makes it easier for me. The biggest issue in an agency is client whispers. The closer you are, the less chance this can happen."

His time at Mother, where creatives are the account handlers, will also give him a unique perspective on this challenge (he cites Boots as a classic example of involving the client from the beginning).

Collins also has a long history of creative management experience. In 2002, he reached the high point of his career so far when he became the joint executive creative director of Lowe London, alongside Tony Barry.

The pair first teamed up in 2000 when they joined the agency after being hired by Charles Inge. Barry quit the lead role in 2003 to rejoin Inge at the then Clemmow Hornby Inge, leaving Collins in full control.

Will Orr, the managing director of WCRS and a former colleague of Collins during their time at Mother, says that despite having a rough time in the role (this is the period when Lowe's decline started to become evident), he is talented eno-ugh to run a creative department.

"I don't think the transition back to executive creative director will be a tough one - I think the transition to jobbing creative at Mother was his hardest," Orr says.

Before moving to Lowe, Collins and Mary Wear, his creative partner of 15 years, worked in creative departments at FCB, Gold Greenlees Trott, Saatchi & Saatchi and Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.

Along with this experience, his character and reputation will help him to fit well at RKCR/Y&R. Collins is roundly regarded as a calm, influential and thoughtful creative, who rarely loses his temper.

This measured approach may be a result of his passion for karate. Collins has been a black belt in the sport for years. He says his regular practice gives him a way out of his head and enables him to forget about work for a while.

This Zen-like serenity seems at odds with his past when he was, to use the phrase of more than one commentator, "a bit chippy".

Cilla Snowball, who worked with Collins while he was at AMV, says: "He brings passion, energy and enthusiasm to the process and it shows in his work. He would always fight for his work. The fights were always spirited and good humoured.

"He's energetic and fun - as evidenced in Richmond at Sainsbury's on Saturday mornings with his children Gigi and Felix, who literally race around the store with Damon in tow."

One major challenge that may need Collins' calm approach will be adjusting to working with a total stranger, Exon, whom he admits he has only spoken to for an hour.

Collins places a lot of emphasis on the chemistry of the senior management, saying "they can make or break an agency", which seems at odds with the position in which he will soon find himself.

However, he says: "I'm impressed with Richard. He's smart, intuitive, extremely capable.

"Mark (Roalfe) stabilises everything. The former management may have left an imprint, but Mark's is bigger."

Roalfe's presence may yet be a double-edged sword, though. He is still involved in running the agency and the creative department, and some question whether Collins will be happy with a hands-on approach. Despite this, Collins has strong opinions on how he sees the department, and the industry in general, moving forward.

"With the advent of technology, everyone needs to keep up because anyone can now make an ad. What marks us out as an industry is our ability to use all of this technology as a conduit for an idea," Collins says.

With Collins, there are always going to be comparisons to his dad Ron, who was the C in WCRS and one of the industry's most infamous practitioners, but he says this has always given him the drive to forge his own reputation.

There is a sense that while Collins enjoyed working at Mother, it didn't really give him a chance to do this, but pushing RKCR/Y&R to agency of the year and outdoing Murphy, Golding and Priest will.

Age: 41
Lives: Richmond, south-west London
Family: Wife, Gabriela, children, Felix and Gigi
Favourite ad: The 60s Volkswagen Beetle commercial, featuring two white
rabbits, the voiceover of which says, "In 1948, there were only two
Volkswagens in America"
Most treasured possession: A black, cotton belt
Favourite TV show: The Simpsons; Lost
Interests outside of work: Gabriela, Felix and Gigi.
Motto: Treat others the way you'd like to be treated yourself.


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