Media Headliner: Jones weathers the storm at Universal McCann

A wind of change has blown through Universal and left Andy Jones in sole charge. Now he needs to deliver, Ian Darby writes.

A wind of change has been blowing through Universal McCann in recent weeks. Or, more accurately, a whirlwind created by its worldwide chief executive, Nick Brien.

Brien, who was installed last summer, has acted swiftly to make a series of changes. These have included the appointment of the former ITV Sales chief, Graham Duff, as the head of the Europe, Middle East and Africa region and, last week, the move of Damian Blackden, Universal McCann London's joint chief executive, to a new role as the digital flag-waver across the same region.

However, behind the management changes have been even more radical events that Brien hopes will shape Universal's future - the decoupling of Universal from McCann Erickson in terms of financial reporting and a bid to develop a more advanced offering, especially in the digital space.

There may be more changes to come, but, for now, the twister has run its course. Despite Blackden's departure from the UK role, there is no new UK leadership. Andy Jones, Universal London's other joint chief executive, will now take sole charge.

Some expected greater upheaval in the UK, with the introduction of a new, dynamic leadership to give the agency more impetus. Universal London, after all, has struggled to make a name in the UK market following network losses such as Nestle and L'Oreal and local losses such as BSkyB.

Yet Jones is at pains to point out that he and Blackden made a difference in their two years at the helm: "We won a lot of business, including Autoglass, RHM, More Th>n and the Telegraph Group."

Jones is a Universal veteran, having started out as a TV buyer in the McCann media department 20 years ago. Trista Grant, the non-executive chairman of Vizeum, is a former managing director of Universal McCann. She says: "I always felt Andy went into the business the wrong way round. His skills are broad but he specialised in TV very young. He was a TV guy with a planner's brain."

Chris Hayward, the head of broadcast at ZenithOptimedia, says that, while Jones' appearance has changed over the years, he remains a good operator: "I don't think Jonesy any longer looks like David Bowie's double but he's one of the smartest, most able people I've come across. I respect him professionally, and socially you'd always ask for a seat at his table when Jonesy is holding court."

Grant adds: "He's a very big character: he has an enormous sense of humour, a lot of passion, can be very fiery and expects a lot from people. He has the classic characteristics of someone who has worked their way up to the top of our business."

Paul Thomas, now a managing partner at MindShare, was previously the press director at Universal. He says: "Jonesy was very much a man of the people. He was well liked - the sort of guy who knows everybody on the floor, a good entertainer, quick-witted and fun."

Critics suggest that Jones was weaker on the strategic side but has worked on this over the years. He bristles at the suggestion that his traditional TV background might be a weakness when he's leading a business that is putting digital at the core of what it does: "I was a TV buyer, but I've had a huge number of roles. Twelve years ago, I was a group account director. I took the view that I'd adapt and move on. In the past five years, my experience has been much broader."

A key challenge for Jones is assembling the right talent around him.

As Thomas puts it: "Do they have the team to make things happen and is he inspirational enough to attract people in?"

It seems Jones is already happy with the core team and it sounds as if Russell Place, the head of strategy; Abba Newbery, the strategy director; Richard Oliver, the head of TV; Tracy Stern and Mark Middlemas, the group account directors; and Jason Carter, the head of digital, will form the management team moving forward.

But Universal London has had a tough couple of years. Isn't it time to re-energise with talent from outside? Jones says: "I'm saying to everyone there isn't anything out there that's better or to be frightened of. It's about having the right people, attitude and product."

And Jones is convinced that the separation from McCann Erickson will give the network the chance to invest, especially now that Interpublic seems once again to have its focus on media: "The product offering is a huge part of it and the financial separation is a positive because it gives us control over our destiny and the freedom to invest where we see fit."

So it seems Universal London's destiny depends as much on its network's fortunes as it does on success in the UK. As Jones says: "The challenges here are the same as globally - we've learnt that lesson painfully. The L'Oreal pitch took us out of the market for six months. We have not had a strong enough network and need more coherence, need to act more like a team."

And Jones is fired up by the introduction of Brien and Duff: "Nick has been doing and saying all the right things. We've not really had anyone with his degree of vision and the strategy to deliver it."

Jones hasn't been blown away by the initial storm at Universal but he and his bosses are now under pressure to deliver.

THE LOWDOWN Age: 43 Lives: Teddington Family: Wife Cathy, children Alexander and Grace Most treasured possession: Do children count? Otherwise, my record collection Describe yourself in three words: Tenacious, challenging, committed Interests outside work: Music, books, football (Liverpool FC), playing golf (badly), horse-racing, movies (Scorsese, Coppola) Favourite music: Arcade Fire, The Strokes, Massive Attack, Neil Young, Bowie, Lennon, The Clash, Velvet Underground (I could go on)