MEDIA HEADLINER: A clear vision for MindShare arrives hot from the Far East

MindShare's youthful new chief knows what he wants to improve.

So who the hell is Kelly Clark, the person drafted in from MindShare's Hong Kong outpost to replace Simon Rees as its UK chief executive?

This was the question on many people's lips following Rees' decision to depart into the unknown.

Well, first, it's important to make clear that, despite the name, he's not a woman.

But this fundamental similarity aside, Clark is a totally different beast to his predecessor in both character and appearance. The only thing Rees and Clark seem to have in common is that they both started their careers buying TV airtime. Rees, the wiry hockey-playing Welshman, comes across as nervy and insular, whereas Clark, a lived-in and relaxed foodie from North Carolina, is the very model of calm and friendliness.

Clark's only obvious Americanism is the occasional tendency to lapse into management speak, unsurprising in a man who has spent all his career within WPP and is a company man to his boots.

At 36, Clark, has a youthfulness that belies his new responsibilities - at his previous posting he was known by colleagues as the "oldest young man in media".

Just four weeks into the job, Clark roams his new Strand fiefdom with an assurance and confidence that Rees never really acquired. He has also quickly established a list of things that he wants to change or achieve.

Rees was responsible for putting MindShare among the most profitable UK media agencies, but observers say his insularity rubbed off on the agency's culture, creating an impression that MindShare has never lived up to its potential.

Clark seems aware of this and admits that part of his role will be to integrate the UK into the global company. "A key goal is to make the UK the intellectual hub of Europe," he says.

A long overdue new-business drive is also planned. After all, in terms of domestic new business, MindShare has had a quiet year with only the win of Hutchison's 3G account springing to mind.

Clark promises that he will ramp up the new-business efforts - and last week he hired Optimedia's well-respected marketing director, Sandra Collins, to spearhead this effort to drive MindShare up the agency rankings table.

Despite MindShare's relatively quiet year in new business, it has a healthy record in client service and retention that puts some of its competitors to shame. Clark says he has identified existing clients that he wants to concentrate on to offer a wider range of MindShare's services.

Collins was drafted in to replace Andrew Lord, who has moved to concentrate on MindShare's Shine M proposition in its House of Media.

This, of course, begs the question of whether there any other rooms in the House of Media that Clark thinks need sprucing up?

"Not sprucing up exactly, but there are definitely opportunities," he admits. "All the bits are there." The rooms occupied by ATG (econometrics), Dialect (retail and local marketing) and BroadMind (sponsorship) are all marked for expansion.

Clark was originally parachuted into Asia in 1996 to establish J. Walter Thompson's TV programming and syndication division in China. When MindShare was launched in 1997, he was made the deputy chief executive officer at the tender age of 30 and he rose to be chief executive two years later.

Over the past three years, he has established MindShare's network of 22 offices in 15 countries across Asia and the Pacific. This has been a considerable success - the agency is positioned at number one in the region. During this time, Clark got a reputation for working all hours in order to establish MindShare's pre-eminence.

So why did he decide to uproot his wife and two young daughters from Hong Kong to a rented house in Clapham? Clark says he had been in discussion with MindShare's worldwide chief executive, Dominic Proctor, on his next move up the corporate ladder for about 12 months. "I didn't have to be asked twice," he claims.

The UK offered different challenges. "I wanted to do something where the company had already been built," he acknowledges.

Clark, no doubt aware of criticism of MindShare's failure to do so in the past, says his final objective is to "intensify relationships with other WPP companies" such as its sister media agency, Media-edge:cia, and Millward Brown.

As well as being capable and hard working, Clark has a reputation for being one of the good guys who gets on well with clients. He's instantly likeable and is an interesting and imaginative appointment bringing what seems like a clear vision for MindShare.

It will be fascinating to see how the enthusiastic and bright new boy from over the water fits in with a UK media establishment in need of building impetus.

THE CLARK FILE

1988: J. Walter Thompson US, graduate trainee to media director

1997: MindShare Asia-Pacific, deputy chief executive officer

1999: MindShare Asia-Pacific, chief executive officer

2002: MindShare UK, chief executive officer

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