Close-Up: Why Morton is key to maintaining the revival of Publicis

Tom Morton's imminent arrival as its chief strategy officer is another salvo in the battle to turn around Publicis Group.

In 2007, Publicis received a score of two in Campaign's School Reports. Last year, the group was awarded a seven. Publicis is trying to reinvent itself, and so far the signs are positive.

It is perhaps testament to the work of Nigel Jones, the Publicis group chairman, and Neil Simpson, the Publicis London chief executive, that it has come so far in such a short space of time.

More progress was made last week with the hiring of Tom Morton to the newly created role of chief strategy officer for Publicis Group UK.

His appointment is designed to maintain - if not accelerate - the agency's rebirth. Last year saw a crop of impressive new-business wins, among them Procter & Gamble's Crest and a creative revival in the form of work on Hula Hoops, the Army and COI. At the same time, fresh executive blood at sister agencies Modem, Publicis Dialog and Blueprint has seen their stock rise too.

But that is not to say that the group can start cracking open the bubbly just yet. Jones and Simpson will both be the first to admit that there is still a lot to do if they are to achieve the ultimate ambition of providing clients with the very best option: "Whether they want a one-stop shop or just one offering in particular."

The former TBWA\London executive planning director will be responsible for developing strategy across the group, as well as filling the gap left by Andy Lear, Publicis London's head of planning, who left the agency earlier this month to become an advertising consultant.

"I gave Tom his first job in advertising at BMP DDB 15 years ago and, since then, I've watched him build an impressive career," Jones says. "He's simply now one of the best planners in London and is very knowledgeable across all the disciplines. We've brought him in to be the strategic head across all the companies and I think there are very few people like him who would be able to do that."

Morton himself recognises the scale of the job that lies ahead and singles out the opportunity to help bring together what he calls a "potentially formidable offering" as a key attraction to taking the role.

"We're aiming to see just how much a family of agencies is capable of achieving," he says. "There's already a huge amount of talent across the disciplines - we just need to plug it in, and hopefully I'll be coming in with fresh eyes to help make that happen."

Morton spent five years at TBWA\London, joining the agency from Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe\Y&R in 2005 as the head of planning on the Sony PlayStation business (he was responsible for, among other things, the campaign that launched PlayStation 3).

He worked his way up to executive planning director of the agency in 2007, before being handed the role for the entire TBWA\Group last year. Morton insists the exit is amicable - TBWA has witnessed a fair few Sopranos-style departures in recent years - and talks enthusiastically about how his time at the agency has stood him in good stead for his upcoming challenge.

"Working across the whole group has taught me the importance of accommodating all your strategists across all agencies," he says. "It gave me a renewed respect for expertise. You'll never get someone who will be a complete planner across all disciplines, you'll still have specialists - and it's my job to bring those specialisms to bear."

If Morton is to get off on the best possible footing (he is expected to join sometime next month), it will also be vital that he slips seamlessly into his role of leading the planning at the group's above-the-line offering, Publicis London.

The agency has been at the forefront of the group's revival and, under Simpson and Tom Ewart and Adam Kean, the joint executive creative directors, it has taken on a refreshingly positive approach.

"We could never have hired talent like Tom three years ago," Simpson says. "We had a very short list for this role right from the beginning and Tom was on that, and it's testament to what we're doing now that he wants to come here as much as we want him."

But Morton cannot - and is not - expecting a completely free and easy ride. The creative product, with work such as that for iHobo and the Army, has shown just what the agency can do, but needs to be seen as more than just a couple of flashes in the pan.

Meanwhile, the head of one rival agency claims: "Publicis has really come on, but I still don't expect them to be challenging for Agency of the Year awards just yet."

So the transformation of Publicis, it seems, is by no means complete. However, thanks to appointments such as Morton, the progress that has been made so far at the group is startling.


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