NEWSMAKER/GRAHAM DUFF: Is Walker’s modest successor fit for his new job? [SH] And can Zenith’s supremo carve out his own niche?

Is Graham Duff man enough to step into Christine Walker’s stilettos?

Is Graham Duff man enough to step into Christine Walker’s


This was the question exercising some of the finest media minds in town

last week.

As word spread last Monday that Walker was quitting the company she had

been synonymous with for so long, it was inevitable she would attract

the choicest headlines (Campaign, last week). But the footnote to the

second most exciting resignation of 1997 (let’s just say Kevin Keegan

has a lot to answer for) was that her successor had already been chosen

There would be no speculation as to who would take the crown.

Step forward Graham Duff, chief executive designate.

In many respects, his succession was always assured. With the benefit of

hindsight, it’s clear that Walker had been grooming Duff for some


She had retreated slightly from the limelight over the past year or so,

allowing Duff room to carve out a position as agency frontman.

From Duff’s arrival in 1993 with a brief to sort out the TV department,

his responsibilities have widened to embrace the agency’s entire

commercial portfolio. His hand was apparent in the October launch of

Zenith Direct, as well as the deal struck with Leagas Shafron Davis in

December which resulted in the birth of Zenith’s first joint venture,

Zebra Media.

With the blessing of the Zenith chairman, John Perriss, Duff attended

more European and global management meetings than Walker in recent

months, thus beginning an important process of familiarisation with

other agency chiefs throughout the network.

Add to that Duff’s undoubted popularity, his unquestioned ability and

his innate people skills - and you appear to have perfect leadership


But why should Duff have been chosen for the plum job above Zenith’s

other joint managing director, the equally capable and respected Andy


It would be easy to dismiss as idle tittle-tattle reports that Walker

put less value on Tilley’s more cerebral skills. But Duff has a similar

pedigree to Walker and it’s one she is entirely comfortable with: TV


As Perriss explains: ’It would have been difficult to have had someone

at the helm with an entirely planning-oriented background when 80 per

cent of our revenues are derived from buying.’

Yet it is precisely this area where Zenith attracts the most flak. Some

claim that Duff’s elevation stamps Zenith once and for all as a buying

shop at a time when the rest of the industry is searching for additional

standards by which to calibrate a good deal.

One media owner, who preferred to remain anonymous, says: ’Big agency

deals are under serious threat now and the big buying points have to

change the way they sell. The answer has to be added value; Zenith needs

a different measure. Planning must come in-house. You can’t have the

planning done outside then give it to someone else to shoehorn into the

buying plans.’

Some Zenith clients agree. Sheila Lamport, media communications manager

at Allied Domecq, one of Duff’s clients, adds: ’It still has too much of

a buying shop mentality. Zenith is not doing enough of its clients’

planning. It needs to beef up its planning department


Duff faces the charge that he is ’one-dimensional’, that while he may

have excellent TV skills, he is less adept in other areas and his tenure

at the top may lend the agency an unfortunate bias. Some whisper about

the imperative for him to keep his hand firmly on the TV tiller and not

leave the department at the mercy of a ’bunch of kids’. Then there are

others who carp about his lack of ’statesmanlike stature’ as he prepares

to ascend the Zenith throne.

It is time for Graham Duff to face his critics and lay out his vision

for Zenith post-Walker. Duff has been in the know since November and has

had time to prepare mentally, but today he looks every one of his 38

years (with exquisite timing, his birthday fell last Monday).

Nevertheless, he is friendly, chatty and typically self-deprecating.

When asked whether he will establish a cult of personality a la Walker,

his response is: ’That would be boring wouldn’t it?’

But seriously, how do you follow an act like Christine’s? Well, if

you’re Duff, you don’t try anything fancy; you put your head down and

hope your experience will help you do a bloody good job. And with stints

on the agency and media owner side, Duff appears to have it all sorted

in that department. As Mark Cranmer, managing director of Motive, points

out: ’No other person in the industry has seen as much media from both

sides of the fence as Graham.’

According to Duff, it’s very much business as usual. After all, he had

increasingly been acting as guardian of the Zenith brand.

’The only difference between now and last Friday is that the buck stops

here,’ he says. ’This is a pretty successful brand and it would be

stupid to change it. Of course, the media market is changing rapidly,

but our job is to look at how the pieces fit together and ensure we have

the best product offering.’

He believes he has an opportunity to ’refresh’ the Zenith brand and

steer its evolution rather than introduce knee-jerk changes. Part of

that process will involve trying to persuade clients to pay more for

strategic thinking, but as the ever practical Duff points out, it

depends on client requirements and some specifically ask Zenith not to

get involved in certain areas.

Under Duff, there will be further brand extensions and joint ventures,

and almost certainly a different management technique. Perriss believes

Duff will operate a more ’consensus’ style.

When you ask Duff if there will be changes in that area, his response is

a swift: ’Yes.’ He talks about empowerment and building from the bottom

up. He is a general who likes to walk amid his troops and, unlike

Walker, has less recourse to the internal phone when discussing points

of order. His may not be an overtly aggressive style, but many insist

that he should not be underestimated.

Duff counters slights about his TV bias, first by claiming he wasn’t

that good a buyer anyway, and then by pointing out that he has spent a

disproportionate amount of time with the press team of late.

But, understandably, the Zenith TV department is Duff’s pride and joy

and it’s one area where he thinks he has the right to feel a


As Cranmer points out: ’It’s hard to do what Zenith does, against that

client base to never have had the reputation of being bent, overclaiming

on discount or promising too much.’

As Duff puts it: ’It’s no accident we have the right reputation.’ And

the right reputation is something that has rubbed off on Duff


He may never be remembered as an industry visionary, but he has many

admirers. Nick Milligan, sales director at Channel 5, says: ’Graham Duff

has loads of faults, but over the years I haven’t spotted them yet.’

Tim Wootton, whom Duff first worked with at Anglia Television, believes

his big break came when he severed the umbilical cord as a time-buying

manager at Publicis and returned as a founding director of the first ITV

sales house, TSMS, in 1990.

’We gave him general management experience which has proved


He’ll be just as effective as Christine in a different way and he’ll

make the tough decisions,’ Wootton says.

As I am about to leave I can’t resist one more question: will he miss

Christine Walker? Duff pauses for a moment before answering carefully:

’As someone I have enjoyed working with, yes.’ But he clearly won’t miss

the battles that reporting to the combative Walker entailed. ’We have

disagreed on occasions and sometimes I have got my way, but it was

always a case of, ’On your head be it’, rather than with good


What did they disagree about? ’Usually about how much I want to pay

someone,’ laughs Duff. Well, Walker won’t be around for arguments much

longer. The purse-strings have passed to this man. The buck stops right