The first thing that almost everyone says when you ask them about Tim Allnutt is something like: "Thank goodness he's moving. He was like a fish out of water at Initiative." Allnutt, they insist, has made the right decision in accepting the offer to head Naked Inside, and both Naked and Clemmow Hornby Inge will absolutely not regret taking him on.
But first things first. The whole Naked Inside scenario takes some explaining.
Naked is, of course, a communications strategy agency. CHI is a creative agency. Naked Inside is the new-fangled bit here - it's a unit that will be imbued with Naked expertise and attitude yet will sit (eventually) inside the creative agency, ensuring that communications strategy has its rightful input at the start of the communications process.
It's a 50:50 joint venture and was launched last December. It gives CHI access to an intelligent product in this area, both for existing clients (though they're not force-fed) and on pitches. To date, it has been based at the Naked offices but Allnutt's appointment represents the start of phase two, and once he has been "Nakedised" through a sustained exposure to the company's culture at its Clerkenwell offices, he will be deemed ready for complete immersion in the raw creative environment of Soho and CHI.
It's sometimes hard to resist taking the rise out of Naked. Doubters say it flirts with achingly pretentious forms of self-gratification. But whatever you think of it, it's becoming impossible to ignore the fact that it continues to be a cause celebre and rallying point in the ad business.
And to some in the industry, Allnutt's appointment is another key incident in a struggle that's been heating up over the summer. Creative agencies are trying to reclaim some of the ground they've lost in recent years to media and communications specialists. Witness Tim Delaney's comments in Campaign a couple of weeks back about how mainstream media agencies are (contrary to their PR blather) still, at heart, buying shops that are hopeless when it comes to understanding strategy.
Allnutt's appointment is a perfect opportunity to make a political point - and his fans have not been slow in making it. He's too creative a thinker, they say, to be stuck at the likes of Initiative. If they don't watch out, mainstream media agencies will find they've become desperately uncool places to earn a living.
None of this is to imply that Allnutt is as precious as some of Naked's fans are. He isn't. He's your average devoted family man who loves skiing, plays as hard as he works and who, according to ex-colleagues, "gives good lunch".
"He's an incredibly nice bloke to work with," Joanna Bamford, the head of planning at Lowe, says. "The thing about Tim is that he has a collaborative approach to media, which is rare these days. He has a good relationship with creatives. He likes having a beer with them and he understands where they're coming from. He has a huge amount of sympathy for their work and what they do."
Will Collin, a founder of Naked, admits that they had seen one or two candidates before Allnutt, but within minutes of meeting him, they knew he was their man. "Also, he'd worked with Charles Inge in the past, which was handy," Collin adds.
He points out that the role demands a combination of qualities that's pretty hard to find. "We don't want Naked Inside to be something that floats off on its own. It must remain a Naked brand in spirit. We have to provide an independence of viewpoint and come up with our own ideas, not become an old-fashioned media department - which was always just there to serve the creative department. It's about new ideas, it's about challenging the CHI point of view."
Collin adds: "But we don't want him to go in thrall to the creatives. We don't want him to start wearing espadrilles and becoming a luvvie and agreeing that yes, it would be great if we could run the 90-second director's cut. We want him to go Naked but not native. That demands independence and a certain degree of assertiveness and it has to be done in a creatively empathetic way, without being aggressive or bombastic. It also requires having a good way with clients."
And as you'd expect, Allnutt hails this as a fantastic opportunity - though he doesn't yet know how soon Initiative will release him.
He states: "I'll be working with the top operations in their respective fields. Naked has rewritten the rulebook and I passionately believe in the way they work. CHI leads a new generation in creative agencies. It's trying to do things differently and it's doing them brilliantly well. Some agencies have realised how important communications strategy is and have been trying to move it back into the agency in some way but all they've done is offer media rather than communications strategy. Naked Inside will be about putting communications strategy right back where it needs to be at the front end."
THE ALLNUTT FILE
1993: Bartle Bogle Hegarty, planner
1995: Lowe Howard-Spink, account director
1996: Western International Media, business development director
2000: Initiative Media, planning director
2003: Naked Inside, partner