The office of Brian Jacobs, Universal McCann's new chief in Europe,
the Middle East and Africa, is still in a muddle. The boxes have yet to
be unpacked and pictures have yet to be hung on the walls. Some might
take this as a metaphor for Universal's current fortunes in Europe,
where a spate of redundancies seems to confirm that Europe's
third-largest media network is in a bit of a state.
Jacobs, who steps into the regional director's role following the
promotion of Ben Langdon, refutes this suggestion. He says: "I don't
think we're any worse off than anyone else. Adspend is down and there
are fewer pitches going on. It is my priority to do the best job we can
for clients and come up with cleverer and better solutions."
The top European role is slightly different to the one envisaged for
Jacobs when he was hired from Carat International late last year. He was
originally earmarked to take the top client handling role of executive
vice-president of worldwide accounts, but Langdon's elevation added
other responsibilities, including developing Universal's international
offering and new business. Local Universal bosses, including Chris Shaw
in the UK, will report to Jacobs.
The amiable 51-year-old has two daughters, aged 12 and 16. He has a
solid background in media starting in research before a 14-year stint on
the media side at Leo Burnett. He joined Aegis in the early 90s to work
with its then chief executive, Crispin Davis, on growing its operations
outside Europe. The role of managing director at Carat International
followed before a falling out with Aegis over Carat's future direction
led to him joining Universal.
Jacobs has spent eight months on gardening leave and feels restless.
He played golf and used up his Air Miles on holidays to Cape Town, San
Francisco and France.
It is clear that Jacobs is relishing the challenge ahead. His enthusiasm
immediately strikes you. He says that it will be "fun" to work with
Langdon and outlines his vision for Universal: "I wanted to work
somewhere that has a vision of holistic communications, not just of
print and television buying. Clients benefit from this and Universal
will benefit, but also I think it's more interesting, more challenging.
People can overplay this and say that it's not about doing TV anymore,
but I have watched people here open their minds to new possibilities and
it makes the job far more interesting."
But Universal's traditional media muscle is still central to its
operation and part of Jacobs' role is to work on the roll-out of Magna,
the TV negotiation venture with Initiative Media, across European
Jacobs has masses of experience and understanding of the media business,
but he is at his most enthusiastic when talking about other things. In
the late 80s he worked with the Teletubbies creator, Anne Wood, on what
he claims was the "world's first advertiser-funded programming" - the
cartoon series, Magic Mirrors, backed by Kellogg. He loves telling the
story of Wood's success and recalls the day over lunch in the mid-90s
when she told him that she'd had the idea for Teletubbies that would
make her fortune.
Is Jacobs the right man to lead Universal's European effort? Mark
Cranmer, the chief executive of Starcom Motive in Europe, the Middle
East and Africa, says: "He's always been an enthusiast and can be pretty
dogged and determined. Some like that but others don't and praise is not
universal for Brian. He has a great interest in the research side of the
business and has a decent perspective on the media business. Brian's had
a few ups and downs but he's got himself back with the equivalent of a
Premiership managerial job."
Ray Kelly, Carat's chairman, who worked with Jacobs in the 70s, says:
"He's a great client man, very focused and has great media
Cranmer says that Jacobs was a vocal supporter of media in the
full-service days and it seems that this voice will be vital if media is
to be central to McCann's offering. In the meantime, Jacobs will take
delivery of a new sofa. He may not spend much time on it, though.