Editorial: Going 'agency-side' can pay off in the long term

It should come as no surprise that Saatchi & Saatchi and Grey are looking client-side to fill their vacant chief executives' chairs ("Agencies vie for Patton", Campaign, 4 May).

Kevin Roberts, the worldwide chief executive of Saatchis, was one of the network's Procter & Gamble clients before he hopped over to the agency. Meanwhile at Grey, WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell (its ultimate boss), has prior form for putting clients into agency roles - Ann Fudge getting the global job at Young & Rubicam springs to mind.

But more than that, both networks will have been frustrated at their options in the UK market. Chief executive candidates for ad agencies are few and far between. The most desirable tend to already own their own agencies.

The usual list of candidates is in need of re-invigoration. Risk has necessarily become a key word in the search process. It has come to the point where agencies need to bring on the next generation of chief executives by taking a flyer with unproven talent. This has worked well at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, where the once green managing director, James Murphy, has turned into one of the London market's most successful agency chief executives.

So what of Sony's David Patton as a candidate? His key strength is the wonderful creative work associated with his name. As the client that bought Sony "balls", which not only thrilled the creative community, but also helped Bravia exceed its sales targets, many marketers will sit up and listen to what he has to say.

The challenge for network giants such as Grey and Saatchis to produce respectable creative work is relentless. With an individual with Patton's credentials leading them, clients might be more inclined to take creative risks.

But there is a but, and one that will affect all marketers thinking of moving to the agency side. Putting the shoe on the other foot can be a very uncomfortable process, sometimes yielding painful blisters. Ad agency executives are masters at making their clients' lives easy; and they do it invisibly. Most clients don't recognise the planning and effort their agency "suits" put in to every single meeting - until, that is, they join an agency.