Mother under pressure as family begins to break up
A view from Jeremy Lee

Mother under pressure as family begins to break up

One could argue that the appointment of Dylan Williams as the global chief strategy and innovation officer at Publicis Worldwide tells you as much about Mother as it does about the Publicis network itself.

For the latter, his arrival is undoubtedly a PR coup and, at face value, a powerful statement of intent and of change (although one that many sceptics struggle to believe it will manage to fulfil). Nonetheless, Williams is one of the brightest planners of his generation and for a creatively unexciting network to be able to wheedle out the sort of talent you might assume would be destined for a start-up does indeed give the impression that it is about to undergo a reboot. That is if Williams doesn’t find that the majority of his time is actually spent nursing Publicis London back to health – something that seemed to be implicit in Arthur Sadoun’s statement that the UK operation needed to be strengthened. All eyes will be on what happens there next.

However Williams will find his time split, he is an undoubted asset to an agency – and a network – that has been in need of a shot in the arm for some time. It needs vision and a place in the world. Williams should serve Publicis well if he has the patience to stick it out – a resource that he sadly seems to have run out of at Mother.

Saville's majority shareholding is holding Mother back from making some big decisions and frustrating those within

For the residents of Shoreditch’s Tea Building, his exit appears to be evidence of a wider problem at an agency that has consistently been the one that most others judge themselves against. After all, who would have thought that Williams – one of the big characters at Mother – would leave to take a job at another agency, let alone a network post at somewhere such as Publicis His departure is the latest and most striking in a series of staff changes – including the loss of the creative partner Stephen Butler and the creative director Caroline Pay – to have hit the shop.

While Mother is still capable of producing brilliant work and remains one of the coolest agencies in town, observers say there is frustration internally at the structural set-up of the business and the vision for where it goes next. And while the founder Robert Saville is seen as a largely benign autocrat, his majority shareholding (which he appears unwilling to dilute by dispersing among staff, let alone sell) is holding the agency back from making some big decisions as Mother finds where to go next, as well as frustrating those who work within.

Of course, Mother has recovered from such blows before and there is undoubtedly a huge amount of talent at the shop – few would bet against it bouncing back. But the loss of Williams, on the back of several others, does seem to show that, much like every other agency, there are some cracks in its otherwise polished veneer.