Editorial: Can Lowe regain its verve with Wright?

In appointing Tony Wright to the global leadership of Lowe, Interpublic has taken long-overdue remedial action to restore the fortunes of a network beset by inertia and drift. For too long Lowe has been a limping, wounded animal the world ad community looked on with sorrow. Not least because Lowe in its prime espoused the type of uncompromising but effective creativity to which many aspired but that only a select few achieved.

When Sir Frank Lowe was jettisoned last year much of the network's culture followed him. As a result, Lowe seems not to know what it is any more and staff morale has tumbled. In the end, it proved overwhelming for Jerry Judge, who steps down as its chief executive.

History will have to decide whether or not Judge has been the architect of his own misfortune. His critics claim he spent too much time managing upward toward Interpublic and not downward toward the network; that he failed to surround himself with the right senior managers and that he lacked either the strength or the guile to make his way through a series of management problems.

Will Wright fare any better? Those who know him talk of a formidable intellect but wonder whether his planning background equips him sufficiently to take on the challenging management role that now awaits him.

His task is formidable. For a start, he inherits a demoralised workforce, battered by a series of reverses, that must now be remotivated with a clear sense of direction and focus. Is Lowe an international network or a creative boutique? Would it be better off following the micro-network pattern established by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Fallon or Wieden & Kennedy? It's Wright's call.

Next comes the need to reassure bedrock international clients such as Unilever. The Anglo-Dutch conglomerate welcomed the 1999 merger of Lowe and Ammirati Puris Lintas, believing it would be well served by a blend of Lowe's creative potency and APL's client servicing. In reality, it has not delivered to Unilever's satisfaction, the network never quite managing to adapt its reputation for creative excellence to the client's relentless demands.

Moreover, there's the less-than-satisfactory global alliance between Lowe and its below-the-line stablemate, Draft. A strong US business, Draft is less impressive internationally. Unless balance is restored to the relationship, Lowe could be enfeebled by the Draft operations it manages outside the US. Above all, there's the question of restoring vitality and hunger to Lowe's key London and New York agencies. Without that, the network will not thrive. The time for fudge and obfuscation is over.

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